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Is Ignorance Of The Law a Defense?


If someone performs an act they didn’t know was illegal, can they be tried and prosecuted? Many people ask this question for many reasons, and the answer is not simple. The Supreme Court has ruled on this subject, and depending on the context of the accusation, the legal team may make a defense that misunderstandings and ignorance caused the error, not malice.

Cheek v. United States

In Cheek v. United States, John Cheek refused to pay his taxes as a protest. His case, and his defense of his charges, made it to the Supreme Court, where the Supreme Court found that Cheek’s willful protest of the law was not a defense. In doing so, they made a specific remark: A good-faith, genuine belief that a person is not violating the Federal tax law based on the complex nature of the tax law can be considered a defense to willfulness. In some cases relating to specific tax-related crimes, defendants and their legal teams can mount a defense based on the complexity of the codes. As the tax codes are so complex, a person charged with willful disregard of the tax laws and regulations can argue that they attempted to follow the law as best as possible. Defenses like these are possible because Federal criminal tax law requires an element of willfulness, but as will be explained, this is one of only a tiny handful of exceptions.

The Exception, Not the Rule.

In the United States, there is a general legal principle that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Citizens must understand the laws of the United States and act per them. Laws are published and made clear by the United States government. And so, ignorance cannot be used as a defense.

Experienced Defense Team Is Here to Help

If you are accused of a serious crime, it is vital to get the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you understand the charges against you and the possible penalties. An attorney can also help you build a strong defense and protect your rights. Contact Nick Lotito & Seth Kirschenbaum for help. We can help fight the charges against you and clear your name.

Learn more about our firm or schedule a case review by calling (404) 471-3177 or visiting our website.

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