The average person unknowingly breaks three federal laws every day, and one in three Americans have a police record. You’ve probably already broken the law this morning without even realizing it, and no, I’m not talking about you driving over the speed limit to make it to work, though yes, that is a crime.
Without getting into a debate on morality and the definition of right and wrong, federal law makes it simple for its citizens to stay within the bounds the governing jurisdiction has set. While times change and laws evolve, each law presented and passed has a history behind the mayhem.
From idling your car to singing childrens’ songs, here are ten crimes you can commit without knowing it. Make sure to get your lawyer on the phone; we’re all going to need it.
10 Fake Social Media Accounts
We’ve all seen the classic MTV show Catfish, and everybody and their dog has created a false social media account using a fake name. While these fake accounts are used to post fun pictures and random things only a select group of friends get to see, creating a fake account is illegal. Gasp!
Anyone on a communication device that impersonates someone other than themselves can actually be considered identity theft and is punishable by law with prison sentences and a fine. Not to mention any counts of copyright infringement the arresting officer might want to add. If you post a picture, a drawing, a painting, or a song already claimed by another entity as intellectual property without the original owner’s permission, it’s illegal.
Of course, it depends on how influential this false identity is and how many people are affected by it that dictates the severity of punishment.
9 Noisy Neighbors
If you’ve been loud at night, you’ve committed an offense. Each state has designated quiet hours from approximately 10 pm in the evenings to 8 am the next day, stating that any music, TV, movie, even your vacuum, or anything that disturbs any dwelling is illegal.
While the hours of this law range from state to state, make sure to come home from the clubs in an orderly manner; otherwise, your neighbor has full rights to file a complaint. And for every day the disturbance continues, the complaining neighbor will receive $30 for each offense committed against them. They may have to prove the noise level is over a certain level decibel, but loud and unusual noises are unlawful all the same.
So keep it down, will ya?!
8 Permanent Markers
Back in the day, permanent marker pens and cans of spray paint used to be kept on the shelf and not behind a glass case. Nowadays, however, it’s illegal for teenagers to buy permanent markers or even be in possession of one on any property, public or private. A student was even reported by their teacher and arrested back in 2013; the teacher’s name was probably Ms. Karen.
Anti-graffiti laws were set in place under the criminal act of 1971. Graffiti became popular in the 1960s as a form of expression by artists and political activists alike, but the courts saw it as vandalism and destruction of property. Over time, the laws have received pushback claiming it to be an attack on poor communities, creativity, and even freedom of speech.
We agree “the pen is mightier than the sword,” or in this case, the permanent marker.
7 Tiny Homes
Tiny homes are tricky since their laws vary by state, city, and town, but living in a tiny home can be illegal. This is due to the nature of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that it is a person’s right to be secure in their persons, houses, and effects against unreasonable searches. But it’s a little gray on what constitutes a house since a house is defined as a building, and a building is defined as a structure with a roof and walls, and a structure is something complex, which a tiny home is, in case you’ve never seen HGTV.
Some states ban moveable tiny homes, while others ban dwellings less than 400 square feet. So if you’re thinking of moving into a van or tiny home and hitting the road, double-check with the zoning regulations of where you’re headed.
6 Snowball Fights
Picture this: It’s December. It’s been snowing all night. You wake up to a layer of fresh white powder covering the neighborhood, so you call your buddies for a rousing snow day consisting of hot chocolate and snow angels that ends with a round of battling it out in a snowball fight. Wrong.
You’re busted. It’s illegal to throw a snowball with the intent of hitting someone. This is because it’s considered assault. A young boy was arrested for pelting a police officer, and back in 2010, five men in New York were arrested for pelting their own friend.
While it varies by jurisdiction, snowball fights intentionally put another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive act. Hopefully, the patrolling officer will take pity on your soul, or maybe just don’t get sooo into the winter spirit and scare your friends with an ice projectile.
5 Air Fresheners
You may want your car smelling like a tropical oasis while commuting to your dreary 9 to 5, but using an air freshener that hangs from your rearview mirror is illegal. In fact, anything that hangs from your rearview mirror is illegal. Actually, anything that impairs your view of the windshield is illegal. This is because behind that delicious-smelling cardboard can actually be a person crossing the road, a motorcyclist, or a road hazard.
Windshield obstruction laws state that any person operating a motor vehicle with an object or material placed, displayed, installed, affixed, or applied in a manner that obstructs or reduces a driver’s clear view is a criminal offense. This includes the side and rear windows, too. So, sorry, Karen, but you’ll have to remove the sunshade on the passenger window; we promise your fur baby will live with the sun in their eyes.
4 Idling Your Car
Idling your car for more than five minutes can result in fines. Idling is defined as leaving your engine running while stationary. Let’s hope this doesn’t apply to freeway traffic. It doesn’t even matter how long your car is running in some states since idling is considered an automatic misdemeanor. It’s a non-indictable offense, meaning the person isn’t liable for a serious crime or a trial by jury, but it is a crime nonetheless.
The Sustainability Department states that idling creates air pollution and is usually unnecessary. Most engines only need to run for about 30 seconds to be properly primed for motion. In extremely cold weather, cars really only need a minute or two longer.
If swearing causes other people to notice, it is considered Disturbing the Peace. Disturbing the Peace is defined as anything that interrupts a public space’s quiet and tranquil environment with unsuitable behavior that frightens or upsets people.
While swearing is often a less citable offense and is frequently seen in conjunction with fighting, swearing is a crime when associated with loud laughter or unruly behavior. Many have argued that this law breaches freedom of speech, but it is eligible for a conviction resulting in three months of jail time and a fine.
So maybe keep the Yo Mama jokes to yourself, and you should be fine.
2 Chewing Gum
Okay, so chewing gum itself isn’t illegal. But, spitting chewing gum is. In several states, spitting on the sidewalks, streets, or highways is illegal and punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of over two thousand dollars. The same goes for dropping a cigarette butt on any property that is not your own.
It’s important to discard your trash properly to avoid getting hit with a misdemeanor, as well as a fine for littering. Some places hate gum so much that they don’t even sell it in their stores, like Disneyland, for example. So don’t be a butt and throw your gum away, but don’t swallow it either. Ew.
1 The Happy Birthday Song
Have you ever been to a restaurant on your birthday and your family insists on humiliating you? And then the servers come, and it’s some distorted variation of the infamous birthday song? Well, that’s because the “Happy Birthday” song is not allowed to be sung in public.
The happy tune was copyrighted in 1935 by the Summy Company, and in 1988, Warner/Chappell Music purchased the company owning the copyright for 25 million dollars. It’s why the song is rarely featured in books, films, and TV. The song itself is valued at five million dollars. With the same melody as the children’s song, “Good Morning to You,” this timeless classic is okay for the home but never in public unless you’re ready to shell out some moolah in royalties.