Nobody ever came out and said, "Please pass a law so I can be forced to stop doing something I shouldn't be doing," no, it's always "Please pass a law to force them to stop doing something that I don't like."
The detectives or officers investigating a case find a suspect not actually guilty of anything, but still doing something that squicks them or brings out personal moral indignation. At times, this is done to show the depths of the characters and their flaws, as in an ensemble cast, you might even have people who don't see what the big deal is at best and defending the behavior at worst.
Frequently though, it's simply an obvious case of Writer on Board, and the viewers are expected or implored to feel just as outraged and somehow make the activity illegal by writing to their members of Congress or something similar.
Naturally, this happens most often with some sort of sexual encounter which is vital to a case.
A form of Reactionary Fantasy, generally against The New Rock & Roll or the Subculture of the Week.
See also And That's Terrible and Is Nothing Sacred?. In sports, this is the sadistic version of Loophole Abuse.
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There Oughta Be A Law!, a newspaper comic (1948-1984) about daily annoyances and hypocrisy.
Used in Libram X — Jen was rather bewildered by the Mazeworks:
Jen: But what are these monsters? What is this... mazeworld? Isn't there some type of law against these monsters?
Ace: [...] and as for the law around here... I'm afraid 'those monsters' are it.
The phrase is occasionally used in Judge Dredd stories, almost always with a Judge around to respond, "There is."
In X-Men Noir, Professor Xavier taught the students at his reform school how to be better criminals instead of actually reforming them. He claims this was an exercise in gaining their trust. When one of his students took a dive off the roof, the investigation uncovered his operation. The X-Men escaped, but Xavier wasn't so lucky. He's sitting in Riker's until the D.A. can figure out just what to charge him with; there's really no law against giving someone boxing lessons, teaching them how to pick a lock, or taking them to the firing range.note In real-life this would be covered under criminal conspiracy laws, which take into account intention and planning, even if the person being charged did not actually take part in a crime.
Judo Girl and Judo Boy once followed an Earth-bound meteor only to meet up with their archenemy Captain Steel at the crash site. Captain Steel was furious, because this was perhaps the only time they'd shown up to stop him from doing something not against the law. He was going to take the meteor, yes, but it's hardly stealing if it doesn't belong to anyone in the first place!
In the early '90s Justice Society miniseries, Black Canary wisecracks while fighting some thugs that "Handguns are just too easy to get these days! There oughta be a law!" This annoyed a letter-writer who took it as social commentary, but it was meant as a knowing wink at the existence of gun-control laws in later decades.
Dredd: Emotions, there oughtta be a law against them.
Used for social commentary in Cry, the Beloved Country. After a black man kills a white man in pre-Apartheid white-dominated South Africa, a series of vignettes show various wealthy white people calling for even more institutionalized racism in the laws, most of which are ridiculous. One particular vignette has one man arguing that "the pass laws should be enforced," and his friend arguing back that they are unenforceable (but he can't think of anything better).
Used a huge amount in the Ank-Morpork City Watch sub-series, as Commander Vimes has a very strong moral code, and frequently is filled with Righteous Anger. This is especially used in Snuff, when Commander Vimes is horrified at how Goblins are treated like vermin, rather than people, and insists that the law should be changed to give them all the rights of a normal person. He does this in the usual Vimesey way, of course: by swearing in a Goblin policeman. Also occasionally he makes sarcastic remarks saying "There should be a Law against being bloody stupid," to which Corporal Littlebottom calmly replies "If so, sir, we'd never be off overtime."
Susan in Thief of Time mentions that the thought "there should be a law against that kind of thing" is a plant from the Auditors of Reality, in a continued psychological war effort to make life obey rules.
Alluded to in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. Fearing dire possibilities if the Bowenists come to Finch and actually settle there, Lori's neighbours Charles and Grant suggest she consult her husband Bill on potential legal remedies. Bill tells Lori that certain things are illegal (loitering, harassment, and so forth), but there's no legal way to prevent the New Age cultists from coming to Finch or buying property in the area.
Played straight when the Canon makes a small Character Filibuster asking for a law to regulate Theatre at Spain and so avoid excesses and revenge between actors and society that is obviously an Author Filibuster from Cervantes himself.
In the Vorkosigan Saga, one of the Counts has come up with a scheme; He collects all the viable ova that would have been discarded by fertility clinics in his district, and has them fertilised to be gestated in Uterine Replicators, ending up with over a hundred new daughters. Dismayed by this, one character remarks that there "ought to be a law..." but Miles points out that there isn't—nothing that the Count has done is currently illegal, and when a new law is written to cover this, it can't be applied retroactively. Fortunately, Miles, his friends, and the Emperor are all masters of Laser-Guided Karma:
"Dowries!? A hundred and eighteen Dowries!"
In Jon Stewart's America (The Book), it's stated the President of the United States may say things like "There ought to be a law!", but he cannot make that law. He can only sign or not sign a law passed by the Congress. Sometimes, this can make the President feel like a pussy. Then he remembers that he still has control over the military, and a small island nation gets a can of "police action" opened up on it.
Live Action TV
On Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the eponymous character complains "Why don't they just outlaw all the illegal stuff?" after some hijinx with a fake ID.
The most ridiculous case was probably the one in which a 17-year-old girl had a disease which made her look perpetually 10. The only men who would date her were pedophiles, and the officers kept trying to arrest her boyfriends for enjoying dating a girl who only looked underage. The writers seemed to think it was a better idea for people who age slowly to remain celibate for their entire lives rather than engage in a relationship with someone who might enjoy it, while simultaneously finding a harmless outlet for urges that could have led to something horrible.
One example deals with a grown woman having an Elektra Complex affair with her father; when one of the detectives fights to get them arrested for the relationship, she learns...
Olivia:Adult incest isn't a crime?
Casey: Not a sex crime. It's an E felony; he'd get... probation.
The SVU officers also have problems with victims of statutory rape being in love with, and wanting to be with, their rapists, even after said "victim" becomes an adult and can make such decisions as whom they fall in love with for themselves. The issue of consensuality seems to escape them at such times.
A more "reasonable" example occurs when they want to prosecute a reproductive abuser who gets woman pregnant without their knowledge (usually by poking holes in condoms) but there are no laws that cover his specific crimes (though they do later arrest him for facilitating an illegal adoption of one of his kids.)
A justified version occurred in the episode in which a male stripper was raped by three women. Since the law defined rape as involving penetration of the victim, as opposed to the penetration of the rapist that had taken place in this case, the defendant's first move was to contest the idea that what she did could be considered rape under the law. In a technical sense she actually had a scarily good case, highlighting the outdated definitions contained in many real life rape laws.
Most of the definitions of rape as "forced penetration" only are very recent.
The original Law & Order episode "Hunters" has two bounty hunters get off murder charges due to the loose definition of the law where recapturing fugitives is concerned. The judge concluding that the law "probably should" be tougher, but it isn't, so the two defendants are allowed to claim that the fugitive's girlfriend and her friend were "collateral damage", even though the fugitive they were pursuing wasn't even home at the time.
On numerous occasions, McCoy put the "depraved indifference homicide" law to an unintended use, to punish tangentially-related businesses or individuals who shared responsibility for the deaths in question, often dealing out the people who actually pulled the trigger to testify against them. Basically, legislating from the courtroom. Sometimes he'd win, sometimes they'd deal out for restitution to avoid jail, and sometimes judges actually recognized when he'd legitimately gone too far. Some examples:
A gun manufacturer whose guns were easy to modify for full auto, and who refused to change the design to stop this, as removing this design flaw would make the weapon less popular. Basically the same as the case behind the film of Runaway Jury. In this case, the jury voted to convict the company but the judge overturned it due to lack of evidence that the company actually intended the guns to be used that way (not to mention federal laws barring such convictions).
At any rate, the Feds, in the form of the BATFE, put their boot down on that and made the Real Life gun companies in question change those designs.
A fast food chain who pressured their meat suppliers into taking shortcuts to meet quotas resulting in food poisoning and the deaths of several children.
An insurance company that failed to notify a man that his coverage was rejected because he had syphilis, resulting in the untreated disease eventually causing him to go insane and stab people some twenty years later.
A doctor running a fertilization clinic was found to be using his own sperm, as opposed to "anonymous donors" as he'd been telling his patients. McCoy is morally outraged, but finds that he can't prosecute him as no law has been broken. Strictly speaking, the doctor himself was an anonymous donor, so he didn't technically lie to anyone. The best that can be hoped for is ethics charges as criminally, there is no case. He may have committed fraud in a couple instances where the patients wanted fertilized by their husband's sperm, but it would require a paternity test to prove someone else was the father, and the couples in question are so happy to have finally conceived a child that they refuse to take part in any prosecution and cannot be legally compelled to allow said testing. It's one of the few instances on the show where the good guys lose all around.
In another, he brings a senior executive that wouldn't promote his female employees unless they slept with him up on extortion charges, arguing that his behavior is the same as if common mobsters were shaking someone down for protection. The defense is livid at the notion, and The Judge admits that this is an unorthodox reading of the law, but is willing to allow it anyway and let the jury and/or appellate courts deal with the fallout, arguing that if the defendant's behavior was bad enough to set new legal precedent, that's his problem.
Note that in real life judges hate having to do anything close to judicial legislation, except in cases where the law as written by the legislature is either woefully inadequate or patently absurd. Even then, they prefer kick the case as far up the chain as possible, so that the court that ultimately makes the decision is as powerful a one as possible - in the US and UK, this usually means the Supreme Court, or a Full Bench ruling in Scottish criminal cases.
Monk plays this as a joke, constantly. Monk tries to get police officers to arrest people for doing things like not washing their hands. The biggest example is in "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man", where Monk goes absolutely crazy and comes up with insane reasons as to why nudist Chance Singer is the murderer. Towards the end of the episode, some of his theories basically accuse nudists of being a different species. He also references this trope phrase when he first arrives at the crime scene, saying "there should be a law against murdering people on a beach."
In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a man and wife are partners in extreme backpacking and survival. Because he didn't want his wife to beat his own time through a course, the man altered her map to make her take a longer way around. This caused her to become trapped in a thunderstorm and drown. Because there was no intent to kill, it was ruled as an accident. Nick Stokes tells that man that what he did wasn't a crime, but it was criminal in his opinion.
In that case, the man should have been charged at least involuntary manslaughter. There are laws concerning this sort of thing, and it's a reckless killing like those used in law school tests. You could even get him in most states for Depraved Heart Murder because messing with maps for a desert endurance trip with the minimum amount of supplies is pretty callous.
The CSI: NY episode Prey had a stalker Asshole Victim who had already caused a victim to commit suicide while committing actions that were either legal or only warranted a slap on the wrist. The whole episode was an Anvilicious tirade on how the law does very little to protect people from stalkers (though it may fall into Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped).
Another episode, "The Lying Game", had a case leading the team to a company specialized on making fake alibis (based on the real life Alibi Network) to cover up things like extra-marital affairs, etc; going so far as to provide fake receipts and an entire call center of people pretending to be representatives of companies that don't even exist. Flack is particularly annoyed by this and snipes that their services could have been used to cover up a murder (the two main suspects had alibis provided by the company). Turns out the two were just having an affair but the murder was still made to be indirectly caused by the company: The killer stumbled upon his coworker's (faked) receipts for "leadership seminars", thought this meant his boss was secretly training the coworker to be promoted instead of him and killed the boss.
David in NUMB3RS basically acts like this in "Arm in Arms" toward the legal arms dealer Arvin Lindell, including basically kidnapping him, driving him out to a memorial, and leaving him there. Way to open the FBI to liability there, David.
In an early episode of The West Wing, we find out that a conservative Democratic congressman has made a "joke" in a speech at a military base about how if the liberal president were to show up there, the soldiers would probably kill him. Leo grumbles that "there oughtta be a law against it," and Toby shouts, "There IS a law against it!" — by which he means conspiracy to commit murder, or even treason, and that they should haul the guy in and charge him with something. (Cooler heads prevail, obviously.)
In the Bones episode The Girl with the Curl, the victim is a 9-year-old girl who was a beauty pageant participant. Pretty soon they discover that her mother put her in a corset every night, kept her on a strict diet for years, gave her growth hormones and drugs to control acne and perspiration, and was having a drink while her daughter disappeared from their hotel room. All this, while awful, is apparently not illegal, but Booth thinks it should be.
Booth: Can't we just prosecute her for being horrible?
Actually, yes, yes they can. There is a common law offence of "cruel and barbarous treatment of children" that would ably cover what the woman was doing in the hands of a decent prosecutor. So they can prosecute her for being horrible.
Reporter: They call it "souping" — teenagers are drinking expired soup cans to get high! Every teenager is doing it, and it will kill them! Parents are powerless to protect their teens because, shockingly, soup is legal.
In the last season of Quincy, nearly every episode was an Anvilicious exposé of some activity that "oughta be illegal". From ghost surgery, to advertising alcohol on TV, to fraternity hazing, there was hardly a frowned-upon activity the show didn't attack.
Lt. Barclay of Star Trek: The Next Generation creates fantasy holodeck programs in Hollow Pursuits, featuring the rest of the crew as caricatures of themselves. Riker finds out and objects that it is against regulations. When Geordi points out that no such regulation exists, Riker responds with this trope. Somewhat understandable, as Barclay's version of Riker was particularly unflattering.
Troi defends Barclay's unusual characters, since they are a part of his personal fantasy life into which they were intruding (albeit justifiably), until she recoils at seeing her own doppelganger. Riker seizes the opportunity to get back at her for chiding him earlier.
Later in the show, either through legislation or Retcon, it was decided that making doppelgangers of real people without their consent was against regulation.
Red vs. Blue has this between the Chairman and the Director when it comes to light that the Director tortured an AI of himself to get personality-fragments. When confronted with the evidence, the culprit openly admitted to the act, but pointed out that it wasn't illegal because he did it to "himself". Shortly thereafter, a whole battery of laws are passed to prevent things like this from happening again, and there's talk of naming them after the culprit.
Strangely, very little of what the villains in Scooby-Doo do is actually illegal. This is recognized in one episode, where Velma comments the monster didn't do anything illegal.
The exception is when one of them, desperate to cover up their ruse, decides to kidnapDaphne. That is illegal, and then they get busted for it. Even then, however, one or two of the villains who kidnapped Daphne were let off the hook because they didn't really hurt her and Daphne was okay with it.
Also in an episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo?, the culprit, the co-owner of a theme park, sabotaged the rides her sister designed out of jealousy. We're told at the end that the rides were actually still safe and only made to look sabotaged.
Park owner: I would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids and your dog!
Velma: Actually, you did get away with it! You didn't do anything illegal!
Apparently Velma forgot that she, Fred and Daphne almost got cut to pieces by a giant fan blade thanks to her.
And threatening someone, even if you're in a monster costume, counts as assault.
Played for laughs in an episode of Transformers Animated, which somewhat makes sense if you think of car parts as a robotic analogue to donor organs:
Ratchet: It's sick... it's barbaric... there ought to be a law against it!
Optimus Prime: It's just an auto parts supply store, Ratchet.
Ratchet: They sell spare parts on the open market?
The Amendment to Be on The Simpsons wants flag burning to be against the law because "those liberal freaks go too far".
In an episode of Garfield and Friends, Garfield tried to eat the food in a museum display and then declared "There should be a law against plastic food!"
At the first episode of House of Mouse, when Pete first tried to evict Mickey, he failed because Mickey invoked a clause preventing Pete from terminating the rental contract for as long as there are patrons at the house. Pete said there should be a law against legal clauses.
A wide amount of real world examples of this trope stem from Freedom of Speech laws (chiefly the First Amendment of the United States constitution and laws like it elsewhere). Simply put, having the freedom to express one's opinion regardless of its content as loud as you want creates something of a mess when what you're saying offends any appreciable number of people.
A secondary cause is any field where innovation outpaces legislation: For example, the case of "Bath Salts". The manufacturers and retailers were not making or selling a controlled substance, as the substance in question wasn't on the list of controlled substances, at least at the time - most jurisdictions have enacted laws (or broadened existing laws) since. Similarly, wiretapping regulations are struggling to catch up to such recent innovations as video game chat and voice-over-IP services.
"The Opinion Card" is a spin doctor slang term for protecting oneself from prosecution for making false statements that hurt someone else's reputation (which is slander) by claiming it's just your opinion. The alternate version is packaging an untruthful claim as a question for the same purpose.
South Park parodied this when Cartman wrote a scathing, heinous manifesto about Wendy. He simply added "or does she?" to each claim, turning it into a question and therefore not a slanderous statement of fact.
In the real world, cannibalism is not technically illegal in many countries — no one ever thought they'd need it to be. This has led to some... interesting trials. Murder doesn't always cover it (as ruled in R v Dudley and Stephens, killing someone to ensure your own survival is not a valid excuse for murder, even when there is no other viable options available); the "victims" are often those who died of an accident, natural causes, or suicide.
In 2001, the "Cannibal of Rotenburg" killed and ate a man who volunteered. The charges were murder/manslaughter and "disturbance of the peace of the dead". As columnist Dan Savage put it with respect to the "victim", this was a case in which giving consent is evidence that you're unfit to give consent.
It should be noted that according to German law you cannot give your consent to killing you. §216 St GB (German Criminal Code Book) specifically deals with killing somebody with his consent, the sentence is lesser than for manslaughter though. You can kill yourself just fine, but if you aren't the one doing the deed it is illegal. Same goes for harming somebody else, your consent justifies the wound/hurt only to certain level. As soon as your life is threatened your consent doesn't cover it anymore. Concerning the murder charges, if somebody kills somebody else for sexual lust, as it was in this case, it can be treated as murder according to the St GB. It is actually one of the stated elements of a murder.
In Japan, a man underwent surgery to remove his genitals and then served them as food to quite a few people. Japan has no specific law against cannibalism, and since no one was murdered or even injured, the police couldn't charge him at first. Eventually he was charged with showing obscene materials, even though everyone who had attended the "banquet" knew what they were getting into.
There's the case of Megan Meier, who committed suicide after a cute boy she had friended on MySpace told her the world would be a better place without her. The cute boy in question turned out to have been a fabrication made by the mother of Megan's former friend, a few neighborhood girls, and an 18-year-old working for the mother. Despite local and internet outrage, the Drews, the family that fabricated the boy, have not been arrested, because local authorities have not found any law broken under which their actions apply.
The mother of the former friend has since been charged under Federal law in connection violating the terms of service for MySpace (which she certainly did). Her legal counsel has contended this is an attempt by the government to "do something" in the face of no real illegality, and such interpretation of the law threatens to make felons out of anyone who violates a website's terms of service. Also, the state is now passing laws to make this illegal, although it can only apply to future cases, because the USA does not permit ex post facto (after the fact) laws. In the end, Lori Drew was convicted of the three misdemeanors that the charges were eventually reduced to, with a possible maximum jail sentence of three years.
Interestingly, according to this article on the legality of selling gold in World of Warcraft, the only reason the guilty verdict was overturned was that the misdemeanor version of the crime was too vague for someone to realize they were committing a crime. If you were to break a site's terms of service in a way that makes you money or costs them money, it would be a felony, and could be successfully prosecuted.
When a man died from a perforated rectum after having sex with a horse in Washington State, it received a lot of media attention. When the press also noted that bestiality was not a crime there, the legislature soon passed a law against it.
Not passing a law against it, merely reinstating and strengthening the law that got taken off in the late 70s/early 80s.
Also noteworthy is that the guy who filmed the incident got away with trespassing because, despite studying the contents of all the film material they confiscated, the police could not find any evidence that the horse in question had been hurt in anyway. Which makes it more of a moral panic case.
Most all European constitutions expressly forbid ex post facto laws but in the UK and Australia laws are allowed to be retroactive, so once there is a law, they can prosecute. It's not common for your average law to do such, but not unheard of either.
The UK is generally prevented from enacting retroactive legislation and the courts will, in general, read a statute as not having retroactive effects because of the UK's status as a signatory of the European Convention for Human Rights. However, this particular right can be derogated from in certain circumstances, such as for the protection of health, safety and public morality.
There is also a common-law presumption that statutes are not intended to operate ex post facto (or retroactively in general), so an Act of Parliament must either explicitly state that it applies ex post facto or word it in such a way that a non-retroactive reading is impossible in order for it to be read that way.
The town of Hialeah, Florida had no laws against ritual sacrifice of animals... until some members of the Santeria religion (a small Christian sect with elements of African religious practices, including sacrifices) moved in, at which point they hastily made one. The Supreme Court declared this unconstitutional, though.
Search your state/country's criminal code. Chances are, there's some apparently oddball provision in there that is a result of exactly this line of thinking. For example, in Illinois there is a law which prohibits the sale of Yo-Yo Waterballs. (This was apparently the result of a campaign by a mother whose child had nearly been strangled when the toy's cord wrapped around his neck, an apparently not uncommon complaint with the toy.)
Although sometimes they come up from the other direction, as essentially a poorly-done Obvious Rule Patch to some other law after somebody found a loophole.
Surprisingly, the only parts of America that have laws specifically outlawing first-cousin marriage are the areas that are known for having family trees that don't fork. As the Jeff Foxworthy joke goes, "everywhere else it's common sense." North Carolina's is the most hilariously specific: allowing first cousin marriages, but specifically prohibiting double cousin marriages; Though there's no real correlation between "places you think of as having inbred yokels" and "cousin marriage being illegal."
Many of the laws against incest in America came around largely in the late 19th century following the Civil War, probably due to someone playing this trope straight. It might also explain where the stereotype of inbred Southerners came from since the practice was more common in the South. Interestingly some states subverted the trope by relaxing these laws, such as Rhode Island completely legalizing any form of consensual incest.
The late, great Bill Hicks spoke of a similar attitude towards roads in Los Angeles: "[On the subject of cars being legally required to stop and allow pedestrians to cross the road]... only in LA do you have to legislate common courtesy!"
Fans of Collegiate American Football have demanded a playoff system to determine a national champion for several years. When the colleges largely responded they were uninterested or only lukewarm about the idea, many fans began demanding a law be found/created at the Federal level that would force a U.S. college football playoff into existence.
Not necessarily as oddball as it seems, since many state legislatures impose regulations on the league (such as mandating that certain teams play other teams once a year). States are permitted to do this because their laws govern the actions of public schools in the state, and if enough public schools have to do something, they will pressure private schools into accepting the rule.
The trope continues to be played straight and inverted when it comes to the definition of child pornography. In some places "pornography" is defined as the lewd depiction of a sexual act, so art portraying nude minors is legal, and many people will still see it as child porn. But in some places the law goes too far, forgetting that the point is to prevent the exploitation of a minor, leading to cases like the arrest of a woman photographed breast feeding her child and a teenage girl being arrested for taking nude pictures of herself.
In Australia, it is now illegal for an adult woman legally capable of consenting to sex to star in pornography if her breasts are too small... on the grounds that it's too much LIKE child pornography. Similarly, some countries ban drawn, painted, or otherwise artistically created images too similar to children performing sex acts, even though in both cases no child actually exists.
Richard Dawkins signed a petition where parents who teach their children religion would be arrested. This petition was started in response to a televangelist circulating a petition to criminalize atheism. It never ends. He withdrew his signature after being called out.
In his book I'm a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson talked about American politician Newt Gingrich calling for the death penalty for pot users, then followed it up with a proposal for a law making it a crime to be Newt Gingrich.
Some states in the US are trying to pass "anti-Sharia" laws, preventing the Islamic law system from being used in US courts. They don't make a terrible amount of sense—"Sharia" is actually an extremely vague and slippery concept—or really have much to do with the way in which Sharia is used in the US (by private agreement among the parties, incorporated into a contract), but that really isn't the point. Since the First Amendment already forbids the state from enforcing religious law (except in contract cases where by the consent of the parties religious law was agreed to apply, and even then the court will only touch the issue if the religious law is clear),note For instance, if a contract said "Sharia will govern this contract," an American court won't touch the case with a ten-foot pole. If the contract said, "This contract will be governed by the opinions of Mufti Fulan El-Fulani of Al-Azhar in Egypt," an American court might render an opinion. these bills are pointless, and since the same amendment forbids laws being passed to target one particular religion, they're unconstitutional, and since no one has been trying to pass Sharia laws in the US, they're a waste of time, and... One could go on and on. Suffice it to say, the real motivation for these bills is clear.
The newer flavor of this sort of law has been trying to make various elements of certain religions (primarily Islam) illegal in roundabout ways. Predominantly the aim is just to make life unpleasant for the involved parties just as mentioned above. The most popular one passing around state courts is bans on various women's headcoverings as "degrading to women", completely ignoring the notion that someone might actually believe in their own religion and not be going along by force.
These "anti-Sharia" laws are particularly stupid in the United States, where the statutory text—so as to avoid accusations of religious discrimination—generally forbids state courts from citing or applying foreign sources of law. This might seem reasonable...until you realize that under The Common Law, the decisions of other common-law jurisdictions are regarded as persuasive precedent and are frequently cited in US decisions. This is less common than it used to be, but it is nevertheless perfectly normal for an American court to cite to English, Canadian, or Australian decisions, and it is something of an affront to the dignity of these sister courts that these statutes forbid citing to them. More frustratingly, the law of contracts allows parties to choose the law governing the contract...so what happens when two Canadians living in Oklahoma (where one of these laws exists) sign a contract under Ontario law and then one of them sues the other to enforce it in Oklahoma...?
True of government, lobbyists, and many white collar "crimes":
"The scandal in Washington isn't what's illegal. It's what's legal."
— Michael Kinsley
In New Jersey, there is the infamous Kyleigh's Law, whose namesake, 16 year old Kyleigh D'Alessio, died when the 17 year old driver of the vehicle she was in lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree. The two other passengers in the car were 16 and 19 years old and the accident happened at 3 am, past the then-midnight curfew and it was rainy besides. So what kind of law does Kyleigh D'Alessio's mother try to get passed and succeed in getting passed? Maybe a law mandating extra emphasis in New Jersey driver's education courses about it being dangerous to drive in bad weather or late at night, let alone a combination of the two? Nope. It upped the curfew from midnight to 11pm, increased restrictions on under-21 provisional drivers as well as changing the name "provisional" to "probationary," and mandated that all probationary drivers under 21 have a red decal on both license plates. That's not even the full list of restrictions. And to make things worse, the teenagers and adults who are on their side about the injustice of the increase in age-based restrictions, especially the red decals that make it so that teenage and 20 year old drivers can be profiled based on their age, are mostly being ignored in favor of the politicians and such who are saying to repeal the decal restrictionbecause it could make teens vulnerable to predators.
After the US Supreme Court ruled that a vague California law against selling "violent" video games was unconstitutional, the usual suspects came out of the woodwork decrying the inevitable destruction of, yep, "the children," despite the fact that the average gamer is about 25. The icing on the cake? Every one of them asked, rhetorically, if the audience would likewise be ok if violent and explicit movies could also be sold to children. Well, there is no law at any level of governance anywhere in the US preventing such a thing. Age restrictions are enforced solely by theaters and retailers. Considering nobody even knew selling an 'R' movie to a kid was legal, I think we can trust the same people not to sell 'M' games to kids.
There are laws preventing the sale of sexually explicit content to children, but they are not (and can never be) tied to the MPAA rating-system. There are no such laws for violent content, in large part because it's harder to draw the line (with sexually explicit content, the rule is easily "don't show boobs or privates;" with violence...how do you even define that?).
Several U.S. communities have attempted to pass legislation against flash mobs, not seeming to understand the whole "freedom of assembly" clause in the Constitution.
The Westboro Baptist Church has gotten a lot of notoriety the past years with their protests at the funerals of dead soldiers, among other events. Many people HAVE filed charges against them, trying to make what they do illegal. However, they usually win because of the free speech amendment, and sometimes even GET money themselves by counter-sueing. It doesn't hurt that many members of the church are lawyers.
There have also been laws proposed or passed in order to buffer against the effect of the protests on grieving family members and friends, such as forbidding protests within half an hour before and after the funeral ceremonies
It goes the other way when the WBC tries to press charges when local civilians take steps to block the protests, such as using their own vehicles to take up parking spaces, leaving the protesters nowhere to park or forming a human buffer between the protestors and the funeral. While it is illegal for the state or town to infringe on their right to peaceful protest the citizens also have that right and invoke it to keep the WBC away from their grieving friends and coworkers.
In 1980, Rhode Island sought to reduce some of their harsher penalties for prostitution, but the legislation would up accidentally deleting the specific crime of selling sexual services. While soliciting on street corners was out, conducting the entire transaction indoors was technically legal, a massive loophole that lasted until 2009.
In the UK, some enterprising "common prostitutes" (as opposed to "uncommon" ones) tried to get around a ban on soliciting in the street by shouting from windows or balconies. It didn't work. Similarly, the law makes it illegal to be a pimp, to run a brothel, to use a prostitute subjected to force (whether the client is aware is irrelevant), to solicit on the street, to live from the proceeds of prostitution (except your own), but not to actually be a prostitute. This is deliberate In other words, the law bends over backwards to try to stop the practice and still avoid criminalizing the vulnerable individuals at the centre of it. However the law has a major flaw in that it makes it illegal for two or more prostitutes to work in the same place as that makes it a brothel, forcing them to work alone increasing their vulnerability.
The Swiss Criminal Code prohibits fare evasion by using forged tickets, old tickets, wrong tickets, etc, but does not cover fare evasion by not having a ticket at all. So the Swiss Supreme Court ruled that using public transportation without a ticket at all was not a crime, because that specific case should have been such an obvious one to forbid when legislating fare evasion.
A weird aversion exists in the state of Virginia. Following any motor vehicle accident, the Police always charge the driver at fault with reckless driving. Having a car accident isn't technically illegal in Virginia, but since Virginia doesn't have a dedicated traffic court, and the only way to get a court appointment is to appear for a criminal hearing, they have to charge you with Reckless Driving anyway. Also counts as Disproportionate Retribution, because Reckless Driving can be punished by a whole year in jail and a $5000 fine. This results in situations where people got into accidents that only involved their vehicle, were not their fault, and then went to jail for it and got a permanent criminal record.
Instead of coming up with any crime that was actually committed, Reckless Driving is just slapped on.
Different localities have tried to legislate against internet trolling on the grounds of combatting cyberbullying. Not only are these gross 1st Amendment violations, but they are also huge privacy violations and the line between being a Troll and being a cyberbully is incredibly thin.
In the UK, where there is no 1st Amendment, trolling is technically illegal under cybercrime laws, but only in certain circumstances. For instance, going on a messageboard and winding people up for one's own amusement is fine, but spamming facebook tribute pages for the recently deceased with hateful messages is illegal.
In the UK, several high profile celebrities have been dragged through the media for tax avoidance, basically using legal loopholes to pay less tax. The government have been madly trying to find something to pin on them, but have had to accept that it is all legal, while they try to plug the holes, instead they settled for decrying them as doing something "morally wrong".
becomes hilarious due to Parliament having recently been pulled up due to a scandal about the expenses they had been claiming.
As of 3/7/14, Massachusetts passed a law to make "upskirting" (surreptitiously taking pictures of women's underwear under their skirts) after it turned out it didn't qualify under the existing Peeping Tom statute because the women weren't "partially or fully naked." The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that ruled the Peeping Tom statute didn't apply was widely criticized by people who know nothing about law; most people who understand law agreed the Court had done the right thing (under the "principle of legality," everything which is not forbidden is permitted, and the statute was pretty clear the subject of the picture had to be at least partly nude). We should note that the Court's opinion itself more or less said, "this isn't illegal, but it should be."
After an extremely controversial case where a woman was found not guilty of killing her child, despite the large amount of suspicious behavior on her part, such as not reporting that her daughter was missing, several states passed laws making it illegal to fail to report a missing person.