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*unless you carry a badge.

I found this article in my Facebook feed: Vice Principal Sues Police for Arresting him While Lawfully Concealed Carrying. At issue is a school vice principle, Kent Williams, who was arrested by the Bakersfield 5-0 for carrying a firearm within 1000 feet of a school. The cops were apparently ignorant of the law’s exception for law enforcement and those licensed to carry a firearm in California . . .

The man illegally arrested plans to sue the department for an illegal arrest. He states:

“It was an illegal arrest. They say, ‘Hey, we get a free pass, because we made a mistake. We were ignorant of the law.’ Ignorance of the law is not a defense. The same goes for the police.”

On one hand, cops aren’t lawyers. On the other hand, arresting a person is a big deal, no matter what the charge. Let’s say the man wasn’t a holder of a concealed carry license and had simply been carrying a long arm in a case within 1000 feet of a school – perhaps on the way to his car to go lawfully shooting – and was picked up by Bakersfield’s finest. Would he get off with a simple. “Oh, sorry…I did not realize”?

Similarly, there’s the case of Shaneen Allen, a Philly mom with a lawful CCW who’s facing charges in New Jersey, and 3 1/2 years in jail because she was ignorant of the laws of New Jersey when she crossed the state line. A simple ‘sorry’ and and ‘I wasn’t aware of the law’ hasn’t helped her at all.

I think we need to limit laws that can lead to an arrest to a number in which a police officer can reasonably be expected to remember and understand. I also think that sovereign immunity – in which a public official can escape civil responsibility so long as what they do is part of their official business – may be working against keeping the proper balance between authorities and the people. You?

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92 Responses to Ignorance Of The Law is No Excuse*

  1. “On the other hand, arresting a person is a big deal, no matter what the charge.”

    Not for police. Right or wrong, they get to go home.

    • Normal citizens get the book thrown at them if they are ignorant of the law, but police officers can be (and all too often are) ignorant of the law with no consequences to them. Worse, the consequences go to the citizen who is a victim of ignorant cops.

      • It’s an illegal arrest…period. The arrested has a right to sue. The police made the arrest on the assumption of knowledge of some law so this is worse than ignorance. I am disgusted by the excuse that “cops are not lawyers”. They have to have knowledge of a crime in order to make an arrest. Every police car has a computer and they should be able to look up the law just as the non LEO is expected to do. Carrying a firearm should not be a crime. Shooting someone without cause is. It is like giving a speeding ticket to someone in a parked car because the car has the potential to go 100 mph.

      • WRONG!

        It’s true that the general public picks up the cost of these lawsuits but NOT just the “taxpayers.”

        The largest majority of these lawsuit awards are paid by INSURANCE COMPANIES.

        The CONSUMER – NOT the same as the “taxpayer” – picks up the costs in the form of higher insurance premiums.

        We need to change the law so that awards from these type of lawsuits – violations of civil rights – is REQUIRED to be paid PERSONALLY by the “sworn officers” involved!

        • LEO’s, whether state, federal, or local, can be sued on an individual basis for various violations of this type under US Code Title 18. The main reason they’re not, is due to the fact that the fed’s, state, and local government entities have deeper pockets.

  2. What’s more, thats CCW 101 per CA penal code.

    Unless there is a restriction placed on the CCW by the issuing authority, of course.

  3. The police need to adhere to a higher standard than “I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” a la Chapelle.

    Unless we can all use the IRS’s excuse, “Wherever we can, we follow the law”

  4. The difference between being a law enforcement officer and a peace officer.

    Less government needed.

    The main stream media should report more of these, but it’s a business.

  5. I find it unbelievable that not only the arresting officers, but their supervisors do not know the law. In fact, they found it necessary to call the county counsel to get the right answer. This guy was in custody for hours before someone figured out that the vice principal was completely legal (apart from whether or not that violated his employment contract).
    Police officers do not have absolute immunity, only a qualified immunity from civil rights actions, in most circumstances. I do not think they will be able to successfully assert that defense here, since the law allowing a CCW carrier to possess loaded firearms in school zones is “well-established”—it is not a judicial rule but is specified in the California Penal Code. The only exception is when the issuing authority places specific restrictions on the face of the license. And it is not like the police in Kern County don’t know about the CCW laws—at last count, there were nearly 6000 licenses issued in that county, probably quite a few of those issued to Bakersfield residents. No, I think they are going to eat it on this one, saved only by the fact that they will be defended and indemnified by the public entity.

      • Not so much…

        In Fairfax County, only about three years ago, I was openly carrying into a 7-Eleven, while an officer was leaving. He walked all the way back into the store where I was preparing my coffee and asked, “Do you have a permit for that?”

        Fortunately, I was able to show him my CCW and get him to go away as he seemed unable to comprehend that I was within my rights without a permit.

        The Fairfax cops are less educated than I would hope given their history with false arrest lawsuits.

  6. “On the other hand, arresting a person is a big deal, no matter what the charge.”

    Heard a blurb on the radio news earlier, Police agencies are getting swamped with the public posting of arrest data and are sometimes neglecting to to update the data if charges are dropped or adjudicated not guilty. People search names and see the arrest and assume guilt.This becomes a problem when job searching or if potential dates see the incomplete data.

    That makes it a very big deal for the individual. Potentially no job or dates.

    That can make a guy (or gal) quite crabby.

    But hey, as long as the cops get home safe at night.

  7. There were numerous speeding tickets being issued in a nearby community by their local police. Speed limits dropped so rapidly when enterring their town and there was no reduction or warning, yet visitors and town’s folks, none received any leniency. Hundreds of tickets were issued each month.

    Within the town limits was a fitness center/gym and training facitility for the police. Each day residents along the street on which the facility was located would see marked and unmarked police cars speed through the neighborhood street which was clearly posted with 15 mph speed limit signs erected by the same police department. Finally, video cameras were used to document the cars and even radar guns were calibrated and used, again documenting the speed violations and violators.

    Were speeding tickets issued to the police who violated the law as they were to others who did? Of course not. All the police received a warning from their watch commanders to cease it and told them they were being video taped and to take it easy. No ticket, no citation, nothing more than a warning.Unequal justice? Hmm.

      • It is a neighborhood, full of small children, some of whom have almost been hit by speeding police cars. The police themselves determined the speed limit and posted the speed limit signs, stating that was safer for the drivers children, then these same police violated their own speed limit signs.

        Keep up the good work on the treadmill!

    • Sounds like the Missouri State Patrol. I’ve had them pass me several times on the interstate topped out (way over 100mph) without lights or sirens.

      • Last month I saw a Harris County (TX) Sheriff’s Deputy flip on his emergency lights to run a red stop light, then immediately flick them off once he’d crossed the intersection.

        At times like that I really wish I’d had a dashcam of my own.

  8. When I was in law enforcement, I carried a cheat sheet for traffic violations and a Cliff Notes version of the state statutes in my briefcase. BEFORE someone took the ride, I knew what specific portion of the penal code they had violated. And the sub-section.

    Is our current crop of cops dumber or lazier? This ain’t brain surgery.

  9. I have a much better and simpler solution: STOP ARRESTING PEOPLE FOR VICTIMLESS CRIMES!!!

    The “suspect” had not harmed anyone. Why in the world would police arrest him?!?!?!?

      • A town’s funding should be as broad based as possible to reflect the broad based nature of the services it provides. Property taxes and sales taxes serve this purpose just fine. The more individual the service provided, the more individual should be the revenue source. User fees and admission ticket prices are proper examples.

        Individual-type revenue sources, when used to fund general municipal services, are very dangerous to democracy. They distort the relationship between inputs and outputs. They thwart the transparency of the system to the point that users of services don’t realize how services are funded or how much they really cost. This leads to overconsumption of services and heightened need for even greater revenue.

        Fines intended to punish criminal behavior, but used as a general revenue source, are even more susceptible to distortion of incentives. Instead of curbing inappropriate behavior on the part of the public, they encourage inappropriate and perhaps even illegal behavior on the part of the police, who are now incentivized to ticket, arrest and harass the citizenry to personal profitable effect.

    • “Victimless crime?” Surely you can’t be so tone-deaf as to not understand the terror the students must experience going to school every day and being completely unaware of the concealed instrument of death being carried mere feet away from them. Even though they may not actually be aware of firearm’s presence, just the mere possibility that it’s being carried near them creates a hypothetical fear that must chill their spines.

      Why is it always up to us busybodies to be the ones who think of the children?

  10. Every cruiser has a computer and radio in it. Unless it’s a major, ongoing felony an arrest should only be made after confirmation of the charges.

    And warrants should only be served after triple checking the address. No knock warrants should be discouraged, heavily.

  11. Ignorance of the law is no excuse! I hate that expression! Laws are written so the layman cannot understand them, and there are literally thousands of law books. No one one earth would be able to read, let alone understand all of the laws of this nation, in his lifetime.
    How can the courts possible expect ordinary folks to “know the law” Simple things yes, like it’s against the law to test fire your weapon in a school.
    I’ll bet there isn’t a lawyer on this blog that fully understands and can interpret every federal gun law, and every State gun law for the state in which he resides.
    Nothing against attorneys, it’s the system that need quirking!

    • Well in Roman law we distinguish culpable and inculpable ignorance. If someone reasonably should have known, then they are guilty. It is their duty to make a reasonable effort, e.g., to know the speed limit. But say the speed limit was not posted for miles, and, being a highway, they went 55 not knowing the speed limit was 45, then their ignorance was not their fault, and it would excuse them from any guilt.

      The traditional definition of law was an ordinance of reason made by those in legitimate authority for the common good of a whole community and promulgated. By promulgated, it was intended to signify that the law could only bind those to whom it has been made know. So we see, e.g. with Spain and her colonies, laws passed in Madrid that never too effect in California, because, even though the law was universal (for the whole “empire”) it was never promulgated in California. By promulgation was understood not merely that some state officers knew of it, but that all those who would be bound to it could reasonably be expected to know it.

      Frankly, the confusing morass of laws we have now I think prevents a large bulk from being considered promulgated, not even taking into account the confusing nature of the text.

      • Thanks for the reply. Yes I understand what you mean by “should have known” and of course, if you are charged with a crime, that opens up a whole new “fine line”. Maybe I’ll find a cave somewhere and just opt out.

      • And that doesn’t even take into consideration archaic and obsolete laws that are still on the books. Like the (paraphrased) “You must walk 100 feet in front of an automobile with a red lantern and ring a bell” that’s still on the DC books.

    • I know my state’s law pretty well. . . . but no, not memorized. Key is to understand the various “elements” and understand how they are layered into any particular statute.

      my local mayor was surprised when I criticized him in an email about an ordinance that was not being enforced when another one, that i viewed as less important was. . . . Mr Mayor indicated (in writing) that he didn’t know the ordinance I raised even existed, but 2 weeks later, the board of alderman rescinded that ordinance. the mayor asked how i knew about the ordinance and I told him i actually read the entire city municipal code before i moved here. didn’t memorize it, but i did make sure i didn’t see any major issues. he was surprised, but hey, with info on the ‘net now, it really is not hard to understand your rights and responsibilities.

      anyhwow – for this suit, I would suggest the Vice Principal demand as part of the settlement certain “reforms” within the PD. Be creative and think big.

    • Most of the complicated laws are dealing with a very specific set of circumstances, and most of the laws probably deal more with money than they do actual crime. In this case YES ignorance of the law is no excuse; the police officers everywhere should at a bare minimum know the laws regarding the carrying of firearms. That’s a no-brainer.

    • Laws are written so the layman cannot understand them…

      Courtesy of lawyers doing that on purpose. The worse changes to our country over the last 60 years were precipitated by lawyers. The one upside to a SHTF will be lawyers getting their due.

        • I can. I work with lawyers. But, believe it or not, there are lawyers who are good people, but they usually don’t get the press and generally hate government jobs for the same reason we do.

  12. Judge Wier, of Del Norte Co., CA.(now retired). In his directions to a jury I sat on.
    “I don’t care about justice! I only care about the law! I expect the same of you.”

      • It is improper to instruct a jury in the State of California on jury nullification. Jury nullification is perceived in the law as a form of anarchy. So instead the jury is specifically instructed in every case that they are to follow the law as the judge gives it to them. This is consistent with all other states: questions of law are to be decided by the judge, questions of fact by the jury.

        • A change that has happened in the last 100 years, with the rise of “progressivism’.

          The idea that “ordinary people” are too stupid to make important decisions, and to remove another check and balance on state power.

      • That’s the kind of thing that gets one removed from jury duty, if revealed during official jury tampering – excuse me, that should read “voir dire”.

        If revealed just before jury deliberation, I’d imagine removal from the jury, contempt of court charges, and the possibility of moving for a mistrial might be involved. Depending on the judge, of course, but the example provided doesn’t seem like he’d be reasonable or accepting of long-established, legitimate jury authority.

        • There shouldn’t be anything revealed before jury deliberations because a juror isn’t supposed to discuss the case at all before deliberations. Doing so is grounds for removal from the jury (which happens all the time) and potentially a mistrial (though I’ve never seen it).

          Once deliberations begin, inside the jury room itself, talk all you want about nullification. Make your pitch to the other jurors. You might convince the rest of them, or at least flip a couple more to your side. This is important even if you can’t convince all of them, because a DA is almost always going to retry a defendant when the jury hangs 11-1 for conviction, but is much less likely to do so if there are at least three or four jurors voting not guilty.

    • Can you PLEASE tell me what that case was?

      I’d like to look that up in case any documentation of this is available. That quote – properly cited – would be a powerful example!!

      I recently posted something on Facebook about the injustice of mandatory minimums and the Drug War and some jackass replied, “Don’t follow the law and go to jail? I like that.”

      It made me so sick I deleted the whole thread. >:(

      • Nice. Whatever’s politically expedient…

        Weir won (his first judgeship) with a campaign calling for hard-nosed sentencings — a stance he said he wouldn’t necessarily take today because he knows now that sentences need to be based on circumstances of individual cases.

        His overall view of incarceration is there’s too much of it. The so-called “war on drugs” is failing, considering it has been going on for the better half of a century, he said. Drugs seem to be connected to most of the crimes committed in the county, and the country, he said.

        The justice system seems too focused on more punishment instead of rehabilitation, and it’s costing taxpayers, he said.

        He recalled sentencing a man to prison for 80 years on sex-related charges, following sentencing guidelines. It took less than 30 minutes to make the decision, but would end up costing the taxpayers more than $1 million, he said.

        “If I try to get 500 bucks worth of therapy for some troubled teenager, it’s tough,” said Weir. “That’s where our priorities are misplaced. Not just in drugs generally, but in the whole field of crime. ”

        There are inadequate resources in Del Norte to properly rehabilitate people committing crimes, he said.

        “I think you would need to shift some of your resources,” said Weir. “I don’t think the political will exists to do that at this time, either in this county or in this country. I think the attitude now is if you do the crime, you do the time and we don’t like paying for it, but we’ll pay.”

        He acknowledged his conclusions about the judicial system in America don’t follow the attitudinal trend toward incarceration before rehabilitation.

        “I guess I’m safely beyond the reach of an election now, I can say these things,” said Weir. “I don’t think very many people are ready to buy into it. I think it’s going to take a lot more time and a lot more proof. Although, 50 years of fighting and the enemy is still fighting at the gates should be proof enough, but it’s not.”

        http://www.triplicate.com/News/Local-News/40-years-of-DN-law-Robert-Weir-looks-back

  13. This stops when the LEO receives the minimum sentence warranted for the crime for which they illegally arrest a citizen, complete with suspension of 2A and voting civil rights. This will insure we don’t have a badge, gun and ignorance all running around in the same package.

      • CA is not the only state that is allowed. . . . i often carry into my kids’ school (did so last night at a reception) . . . .

    • Funny you should say this. In discussing this very case on CalCCW, some members commented that some instructors tell students that they are NOT permitted to carry on campus, but that the 1000′ exclusionary zone does not apply. The only explanation is that perhaps these instructors are from jurisdictions that routinely include “no on campus carry” on the license.

  14. “On one hand, cops aren’t lawyers. ”

    With all respect, I think you have to know the law and the area of your jurisdiction to be a competent peace officer. SWAT on the other hand is something else.

  15. Sh!t happens, people, and police are people make mistakes. The issue I have is too much of the law does not consider intent. In the case of the NJ Mom, what crime was she committing? None. In the case of the V Principle, again, what intentional harm was he trying to do?

    The police are just as confused at the BS laws. If the laws considered intent instead of being applied to accidental happenstance, there would fewer stupid situations like this.

    With everything having zero tolerance applied to it, it wastes time and resources for incidences like this.

    The legislature churns out laws faster than most people can keep up with them. Firearm laws are maze of contradicting wording. I spoke to a few State LEOs in CT at an IDPA match and when asked about the new CT Gun laws they said “we are just confused as everyone else and we try to apply them what we believe is the correct manner but we have no clue and have received no direction” and there you have it.

    The problem is that politicians believe the way they can show progress is by passing new stupid laws. If every law required to show it was effective and would need to be eliminated within 5yrs if it was not, we could have a mechanism for removing stupid laws. As we have it, we just continue to accumulate laws with no end in sight.

  16. I expect cops to make mistakes of fact. I don’t expect them to make mistakes of law. These LEOs were meatheads, pure and simple.

  17. I think the entire 1000′ law is stupid. I live within 1000′ of a school so every time I leave my property I am violation of the gun free zone.

    • In many cities, it is rather difficult not to be within 1000 feet from a school, and it is impossible to travel within that city without passing within 1000 feet of a school.

    • The law was originally shot down because it did not have the appropriate findings so as to apply federal law to state concerns under the Commerce Clause. This was quickly corrected.

  18. Wow and this was in Bakersfield ca! Where I live in ca we envy Bakersfield because it is the most free area in this slave state that is within 100+ miles. Some people call Kern county “mini Texas.” (Bakersfield is in Kern.)

    • Kern county. Came down a trail I was hunting there at the hot springs and encountered a white haired women walking two pretend dogs. With a holstered .357 magnum on her hip.

      Not a sight one expects in CA.

  19. Cops are not supposed to be cretins. They claim the pay and respect of professionals.

    Well, sorry boys but, professionals KNOW the rules of their profession AND THE RULES THEY ENFORCE. If a cop can memorize his Union contract, he can learn the meaning of the laws he enforces. And he can learn the rules of criminal procedure as well. Every other REAL professional has to do this. Your badge is not an excuse to be ignorant.

  20. You’d think they could come up with legal hotline cops could call and find out not only if the suspect has broken a law but what specific code they violated. And if they can’t correctly tell you the code you violated they can’t take you in.

    I suppose that’s too much simplicity and logic for the bureaucratic state.

    • That would not work here. He was arrested under the Penal Code provision banning the carrying of weapons (openly or concealed) on school campuses. The exemption from the law is found in an entirely different section of the Code, as I recall, being part of the CCW licensing statute.

  21. So the laws are so complicated the cops get a pass if they get confused but the citizen gets arrested? Is this not the best example of bullshit ever?

  22. I think we need to limit laws that can lead to an arrest to a number in which a police officer can reasonably be expected to remember and understand. I also think that sovereign immunity – in which a public official can escape civil responsibility so long as what they do is part of their official business – may be working against keeping the proper balance between authorities and the people

    I totally agree.

  23. SHOCKING! I agree with a public school official!

    Maybe he and his coworkers can use this opportunity to consider the insanity behind the zero tolerance policy.

  24. This is second hand, so take it for what it is worth. But I remember a guy telling me his encounter with an ignorant cop (I think actually game warden). He was carrying a gun, concealed, without a license. This was in California. He had an encounter with a cop who wrote him a ticket, including that among the other charges. But he was a licensed fisher and was fishing. CA has an exception for that! He told the cop what he thought the law was, and the cop went back to his car, looked it up, and apologized that he didn’t know and crossed it off the ticket.

    That is how mistakes should be handled. Not by letting it be sorted out at the station.

  25. Why am I not surprised?

    I’ve been to court twice over issues where the officer didn’t know the law — won both times; the second time the judge ordered the deputy to apologize to me, and put a warning letter in his file, and the judge apologized as well for the whole hassle due to an ignorant cop. Another time I got detained and sat there for twenty minutes while a deputy hunted through his little summary book of laws, finally getting released because the law he thought he was enforcing didn’t exist. Yet another I was issued a warning by a deputy, and when I mentioned it to a city officer I know, that officer told me, “Next time, tell him to call me, because he’s operating in my jurisdiction — besides, he was wrong”.

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