Criminal Law

Crime and Punishment: 4 Laws You May Have Broken Without Even Realising It


Have you ever broken the law? “Of course not,” you reply, despite knowing the number of laws you probably have broken. From speeding occasionally to pinching the odd chocolate bar from the store as a child, it’s a wonder there aren’t ‘Wanted’ signs up around town with a ransom for your arrest. We are joking, of course, but many of us have knowingly committed a crime at some point in our lives. However, chances are, there may be crimes that you are committing unwittingly. Check out the following examples.

1. Crossing the road

Crime: Most of us cross one road or another every single day. Why should that be illegal? Well, it is if you’re jaywalking. So if you cross a busy road with little heed for road signage or refuse to wait at traffic lights, you are effectively committing a criminal act. Yes, pedestrians do have right of way occasionally, but if you are blatantly ignoring oncoming traffic in a bid to cross the road sooner, you are only going to get yourself or somebody else injured or killed. You might also get arrested.

Punishment: Under federal sentencing guidelines, you are unlikely to be imprisoned for the offense. Still, if caught by a passing police officer, you are going to be slapped with a citation. This will be a fine similar to a parking ticket, and you will have to pay up before a deadline to avoid going to court. If you are found guilty of jaywalking again, the fine will rise, so you really do need to get a handle on road rules before you find yourself in bigger trouble.

2. Connecting to somebody else’s Wi-Fi

Crime: Most wi-fi networks are passworded, and it’s perfectly fine to utilise somebody’s connection with their permission. Still, our computers and smartphones are always looking for a connection, and you may have connected to an unsecured network without realising it. In some cases that’s okay. Sitting on a park bench outside McDonald’s and picking up their signal is fine, although it would be polite to buy a Big Mac as a thank you for using their internet. What isn’t fine is using your neighbour’s connection, and if it is unsecured, you may be connected to it right now without knowing about it.

Punishment: Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, you are committing a felony. Yes, it’s illegal to connect to a wireless router without authorisation, and you could be subject to a hefty fine and community service if your neighbours find out about it. So, it’s probably best to check your internet connection settings to make sure you’re hooked up to your own router, just in case!

3. Singing “Happy Birthday”

Crime: To be honest, terrible singing should be a crime unto itself. Although that isn’t the issue here. If you have ever sung this song in a public place, you may be breaking copyright laws. Sorry to put a dampener on your birthday, but it’s true. This also applies to singing any song, unless you have sought copyright to use the artist’s lyrics beforehand. While this is difficult when the artist in question is dead, such as the Hill sisters who authored the birthday song, there are still faceless corporations who will try and sucker money from you. Read this New York Times article for evidence!

Punishment: You won’t need to hire a lawyer if you are singing the song from the comfort of your own home, and it’s unlikely you would in any public place. Still, there’s a reason why entertainment businesses pay royalties to song companies every year, and that is to avoid the pressures of going to court and being faced with a huge fine. Our advice is this: skip royalties altogether by making up your own version of the song when regaling your loved ones in public, or stop singing the infernal song altogether.

4. Possessing a permanent marker in a public place

Crime: Picture this: You’re sat in the park having a picnic with your friends when suddenly you are besieged by a SWAT team. Ordering you to empty your bags, you throw out all the usual things you would have, such as tissues, money, pens, and… a permanent marker! You are in big trouble. Why? Anti-graffiti laws, which make it a crime to buy a permanent marker (if you are under 18) in most states, as well as possessing one in areas where graffiti is a problem. Yes, the pen may have been for your art class, but you can tell that to the judge!

Punishment: Using a marker pen led to this teen’s arrest, but it’s unlikely these laws are enforceable, no matter how old you are, unless there is reason to suspect you of graffiti. Still, if you are caught doodling on a wall in a public place, you can face a year in jail and a hefty fine. Our advice: hide your permanent markers where the sun don’t shine and where the police can’t find them. Only joking, but confine your scribbles to the walls on your home, or make a legal career out of it!

Never committed a crime? Think again! And now that you’ve read this article, be sure to check which router you are connecting too, but not while crossing the road! Thanks for reading.

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Beth Jones is a valued contributor to various blogs.

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