Have you ever heard someone say that “everyone breaks the law” or that “everyone is a criminal”? It’s a relatively common refrain by those who feel that the laws in the United States are too restrictive. They point out that everyone breaks the law.
They may also use this argument to point out that all people do not get fair treatment. If one group of people — teens, for example — gets arrested more often than others, is that an indication of discrimination? In that example, maybe it’s age discrimination. If everyone breaks the law, everyone should get arrested equally.
When people make these claims, they often refer to all criminal activity. Driving 60 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone? You just broke the law. Having a beer at a college party when you’re only 20 years old? You’re a criminal. Forgetting to report a few hundred dollars that you made on the side when filling out your income taxes? You might have broken the law.
Their point is that everyone breaks these minor laws, but it’s not usually enough to realistically bring about criminal charges for everyone in the United States. The police don’t have time to book everyone who breaks the speed limit or drives without a seat belt. These things happen all the time. Many minor crimes do.
While this is a part of the narrative that “everyone is a criminal,” it is important to note that it’s not just minor crimes. According to one law professor, who is now retired but who used to teach at the well-known Louisiana State University, the authorities could indict every single adult living in America for a minimum of one federal criminal act.
Part of the issue is just that there are thousands of laws. Even legal experts literally do not know how many there are. These laws also change constantly. Something that was legal years ago may be illegal today. It leads to a lot of confusion. Most private citizens do not take the time to keep up with all of the changes to the law.
Another part of the issue is potential misunderstandings — often resulting from this lack of knowledge of new laws. People who do not want to break the law, and who do not think they are, could technically become felons. The only difference between them and someone behind bars is that they haven’t gotten caught yet.
As you can imagine, this creates a fairly complex situation in the United States. People feel shocked to learn that they are facing felony charges. If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to know about all of your legal rights.