The fundamental laws of human behavior were formed in England over 500 years, roughly from the confirmation of the Magna Carta in 1215 to a 1760 court digest outlining the absolute rights of individuals.
Some laws, which are still in existence from the time of the Magna Carta, seem silly these days. For example, it's illegal in the UK to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armor, to carry a plank of wood along a pavement, or to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances.
These common laws were brought over to America by colonists and proved vital to the architecture of the Constitution. But early legislation of the United States was just as strange as that earlier defined by the European forefathers. For instance, in Arizona, it's illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs, and in Connecticut, a pickle cannot be considered a pickle unless it bounces.
These days, many more complicated laws protect the rights of individuals, but with such old and curious ones still languishing in archives, it’s likely someone will find themselves in the clink consequent on a barmy nugget.
That’s what this list is all about. Here are 15 dumb causes of people finding themselves in court, whether by breaking an outmoded law or just illustrating the old tenet: should have known better.
15 Spaghetti Oh No!
It's summer 2014. 23-year-old Ashley Huff sits in the passenger seat of her friend’s car on her way back to Commerce, Georgia. She's hungry, so she opens a can of SpaghettiOs and reaches for a spoon, unaware that this simple act has sealed her miserable fate. A few moments later, her friend notices a tailing cop car and pulls over. Sensing trouble, Huff finishes the contents of the can and puts the spoon in a plastic bag.
The cop asks the driver for her credentials, but his attention is quickly drawn to the plastic bag Huff is squeezing into her handbag. Checking the bag, he's unable to recognize the SpaghettiO residue, so he tests it with a portable drug kit. It turns up positive for methamphetamine causing Huff to be raffled at the roadside and jailed for a month. But those kits are about as reliable as a cheesecloth condom because the “residue” turned out to be, well, SpaghettiOs.
14 Is That What I Think It Is?
Portsmouth, England, 2014. A funeral procession glides slowly between the gravestones of the town’s Kingston Cemetery. The mourners are dressed in black and, with heads bowed, follow a pine coffin borne by the undertakers. Suddenly, eerie sounds are heard emanating from behind a nearby gravestone. At first, it's a deep moaning that wound itself coldly about the ears of the funeral party; then, appears a figure dressed in white, its arms waving above its head. Fear blows the group apart -- the mourners scatter, and the hearse drives away with a wheel spin and is gone. The funeral can wait another day.
But 24-year-old Anthony Stallard was that ghost and despite the authenticity of his performance was also (at least at the time) alive, well, and very drunk. Witnesses told police that as well as pretending to be a ghost, he was kicking a football against gravestones prior to the arrival of the funeral.
13 Real Big Twit-Ter
Freedom of speech doesn't necessarily equate to saying anything you want. These days, the laws governing racist incitement, trolling, sexual harassment, and defamation are applied as readily to the internet as they are to print. But laws don't stop such crimes from being committed; nor are they a wholesome deterrent to some people. While most of us have an inbuilt regulator (sometimes called a conscience) preventing us from publicly speaking out of turn, others seem completely devoid of it.
In 2012, soccer player Fabrice Muamba (of the Bolton Wanderers) collapsed during a match at White Hart Lane in England. He suffered a heart attack and though he survived, he was without a pulse for 78 minutes. It was at this moment that 21-year-old Liam Stacey, who had been watching the match, decided to tweet: “LOL, F-ck Muamba. He's dead” and followed this with a tirade of racial abuse. Stacey was jailed for 56 days.
12 The Smoking Butt Of The Law
Don’t throw a cigarette -- or any litter, come to think of it -- on the ground… because cleaning up litter costs the U.S. more than $11.5 billion each year (www.kab.org, 2010). The simple answer to a handful of trash is to find a bin… especially if you live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The police department there is hot on littering, and we're certain that if you live in the city, you'll know this. Why, even we know it, and we live nowhere near Albuquerque!
Back in 2012, a 31-year-old local man took one last draw of a cigarette and flicked the stub onto the sidewalk. A police officer passing him saw what he had done and arrested him on the spot. The choice then offered to the man was to pay a fine and admit himself to the nearest mental health facility or spend time in jail. What option would you take?
11 Dropping The M-Bomb
Liverpool, England. It's the spring of 2013. Excited and delighted, 36-year-old Neil McArdle and his fiancée, Amy Williams, make their way to Liverpool registry office to be united in matrimony. On the approach, the car they're traveling stops dead. Ahead of them is a contingent of bomb disposal units and armed officers. A bomb placed somewhere in the registry office is set to detonate within moments.
Little did Amy know that the man sitting next to her was the very person who had made a call to the offices earlier warning of the imminent explosion. Her fiancé had forgotten to book the venue and, to avoid telling her, had created the mother of all diversions. Disguising his voice, Neil had called the office and said, “This is not a hoax call. There's a bomb in St George's Hall, and it will go off in 45 minutes” (The Guardian, 2013). He was jailed 12 months.
10 Earthquake? No, Not Here. Nope.
The L'Aquila earthquake of 2009 killed 300 people. It began at around 3am on the 6th of April and quickly grew to a bone-shaking Richter rating of 5.9. The medieval city was razed to the ground, leaving 65,000 people homeless. While signs of earthquakes are monitored around the clock from underground, on the surface, and from space, it's almost impossible to predict where the next one will be and what damage it will inflict, which is why our next story hints at an injustice.
Over the next three years, a state-sponsored inquiry into the disaster deemed seven members of the Italian National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks culpable for the deaths caused. The commission accused the men of giving "inexact, incomplete, and contradictory" (livescience.com, 2012) information about tremors in the area. They were jailed for six years each, but the verdict was later overturned.
9 Say That Again, You -----------------------
Our next story reflects on how some laws can no longer have a reasonable stronghold in modern society. In 1913, North Carolina governors wrote a law prohibiting swearing on a public road within earshot of two or more people. Several other States adopted similar legislation, but while some are more lenient, North Carolina still implements the law.
In 2011, a resident of Raleigh, Samantha Elabanjo, was asked to step back onto the sidewalk by police officers after she had walked onto the road. Doing as she was told, Elabanjo then told the officers to “clean up [their] damn, dirty car” (Fox News, 2011). She was arrested for using the word “damn,” but the judge threw out the case because “there is no longer any consensus, if there ever was, on what words in the modern American lexicon are 'indecent' or 'profane,’” (She was also standing on the sidewalk at the time).
8 A Hot Ptooie
June 5, 2012, Lakeland, Florida. It's the early hours of the morning when insomniac student Joseph Stolber takes a walk around this neighborhood. He chews tobacco in an attempt to put his frayed nerves to bed, but they refuse. He must walk further. Turning a corner, he's met by a stationary cop car, and because of the time of night, the officers initiate a roadside search. While Stolber doesn't resist, he argues, citing his freedom as a citizen, and at this, he spits his chewing tobacco onto the pavement. The officer cuffs the young man and takes him into custody.
The charge? A contravention of a law stating “that it shall be unlawful for any person to spit, expectorate, or deposit any sputum, saliva, or mucous upon any sidewalk” (InfoWars, 2012). Stolber was later released on bail. And while spitting is generally considered ill-mannered, it may seem to some that Stolber had fallen foul of an archaic law.
7 Facebook And Periscope
We have two stories for you. Many of us still believe that Facebook is a cute little network of friends, somewhere we can exercise our freedom of speech out of earshot of the authorities. When will we learn that such an idea is a fallacy? In 2012, Paula Asher was involved in a DUI collision. After she had been charged, she wrote on Facebook, “My dumb bass got a DUI and I hit a car...LOL”. The presiding judge considered she showed no remorse and requested she delete her account. She refused and spent two days in jail.
In 2016, 23-year-old Floridian Whitney Beall was driving home from a party and logged into Periscope to announce the fact. “I'm driving home drunk,” she said. “Let's see if I get a DUI" (Huffington Post, 2016). Naturally, some observers, knowing better the impact of such behavior, informed the police. Beall received a six-month suspension, 10 days of vehicle impoundment, and 12 months of probation.
6 Yes, Yes, Yes… WTF?!
The last thing a chap needs when he’s getting ready for 'kertang' is pressure to perform. OK, it may often be implied, but hey, you’re only human! And lying on top of someone who's threatening you with physical violence if you splooge too soon is only going to make things worse. 30-year-old Esric Davis found this out the hard way when his early orgasm landed him with bruises and scratches after his girlfriend had assaulted him. Raquel Gonzalez allegedly began the physical punishment after the pair had decided to consummate their date. Gonzalez was charged with domestic battery.
Uncommon such an event is not. In 2012, a woman was arrested after pulling a gun on a man she was riding. However, this was more a case of attempted robbery rather than, well, aggravated “rubbery.”
5 It’s Just A Bit Of Rainwater. Wait, What?
64-year-old Gary Harrington lives in Eagle Point, Oregon and made the news in 2012 when he was sentenced to 30 days in prison for collecting rainwater. On the face of it, we might raise our arms above our heads and cry foul! What an idiotic law! Everyone collects water… my next-door neighbor has a huge butt! But let's look first at the facts of the case.
Firstly, as some magazines wrongly reported, this was not just a “few barrels” of rainwater. Gary had built three reservoirs, which, when full, would hold 13 million gallons of water. Secondly, he claimed the water he had collected was to have been used for forest fires. But the reservoirs are filled with fish and completed with docks. Thirdly, Mr. Harrington had been asked repeatedly to complete permits allowing him to maintain the reservoirs but had refused to comply. So you see, all is not what it seems.
4 I Just… Plain Forgot
Pick a video or a DVD from Blockbusters, watch the movie, and return it the next day… such a task a Neanderthal could complete on an empty stomach. But seemingly not James Meyers of North Carolina. The 37-year-old, who lives in Concord, rented a video in 2002 from the now folded video store but failed to return it. An arrest warrant was issued by a presiding court in that year, but for whatever reason, Meyers was unaware of the warrant.
It was only after a routine police halt in 2016 that Meyers was told about the warrant. He was ordered into custody, charged with a Class 3 Misdemeanor, and is expected in court soon. Late return fees and the legal proceedings pertaining to them are not uncommon. Dallas News reported in 2013 that Texan Jory Enck was arrested for not returning a study guide that he had borrowed three years previously from the Central Texas community of Copperas Cove.
3 DUI D'oh
It would be difficult to account for the supping of alcohol prior to driving with any other grounds than that of dumbness. No matter how little we believe alcohol affects us, we become impaired consequent on the smallest amount. In the U.S. in 2015, "10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States," according to a report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Fresno Bee, in 2012, an elderly woman was stopped by police and quickly pulled out of the car for being drunk. She maintained her innocence, or so she thought, claiming she had had nothing to drink all night. But when asked who the man sprawled on the back seat was, she told officers, “My husband’s right behind me, and he’s even drunker than I am.”
2 Breadcrumbs and M&Ms
For 19-year-old Stephan Crane crime will never pay. Early in the morning one day in February 2010, he broke into the Ravalli Republic, the home of the Hamilton Montana News. He used a computer to watch p*rn and then logged into Facebook and MySpace. So, too, did he discover “two gallon-size bags of trail mix and another bag of M&Ms inside one of the desks” (Missoulian, 2010). He broke into the bags and began eating; then, sobering up, he doused the entire office with foam from a fire extinguisher, presumably to cover his tracks.
Although the tracks inside may have been temporarily hidden, Crane left a trail of M&Ms as he left the offices on his way to his sister’s apartment across the hallway from the newsroom. It didn’t take Colombo to work out where the thief was, and Crane was quickly arrested. He was later booked into the Ravalli County detention center.
1 Merry F__king Christmas
In 2006, a 12-year-old boy with attention deficit disorder was detained just a few days before Christmas for opening his presents. His mother, Brandi Ervin of South Carolina, had left some gifts at the boy’s great-grandmother's house in an effort to keep them a surprise. But her son gained access, found the presents, and opened them. “He took it without permission. He wanted it. He just took it,” the boy's 63-year-old great-grandmother told the Rock Hill Herald.
When his mother was told about what had happened, she called the police, who arrested the boy for “petty larceny.” Ms. Ervin told the Associated Press she hoped being taken into custody by the police would scare her son and bring about better behavior. “It's not even about the Christmas present," she said. “I'd rather call (the police) myself than someone else call for him doing something worse” (AP, 2006).
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