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Useful Notes: Staying Out Of Legal Trouble
Disclaimer: This page has been provided for informational purposes only. The authors of TV Tropes can take no responsibility for any legal issues or problems that may result from regarding or disregarding the advice on this page, nor are the author(s) lawyers, police officers, or other legal professionals. This page should not be taken as valid legal counsel - but as advice on when you should probably seek valid legal counsel or to avoid the situations that could lead to an encounter with law enforcement.

Few if any people want to get arrested or have unpleasant encounters with police, or get sued. This page exists to provide a short primer on the things you can personally do to reduce your risk of bad encounters with the criminal or civil legal systems. It is not a "guide on how to commit crime and get away with it," or "how to be a Jerk Ass and never get taken to court for it." Instead, it exists to enlighten you as to how law enforcement officers may interpret your innocent (or at least victimless) conduct (or how something you don't even know is illegal can hurt you legally), to enlighten you as to the scope of two of the most awful behaviors human beings engage in and do not often understand due to their culture, and how to protect yourself from situations where you will be held liable for civil lawsuits. Folders are by country, but most of the primary advice in the US section which begins the page is applicable everywhere.

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    US and US territories - Avoiding Arrest and Criminal Charges 

The Short Version For Avoiding Arrest And Criminal Charges:

  1. The US criminal and civil systems are different. The criminal justice system involves police, prosecutors, and others - it is where you can be arrested, jailed, tried, and imprisoned. The civil justice system is where you can be sued for financial damages, but unless you are found in contempt of court, there are no arrests or jail.
  2. The majority of arrests in the criminal system are not for intentional murders, sexual assaults, dramatic robberies and frauds, and all of the other things watching most police shows might make one think. The great majority are for bad decisions or momentary stupidity on behalf of the criminal, which the point of this article is to help you avoid making. Others actually are for definitely serious crimes (Domestic Abuse or sexual assault) in cases where people do not understand that their behavior is abusive and wrong in a culture that encourages and excuses such behavior, or don't care that their behavior is harming another person. This article will also help you understand what defines those crimes.
  3. Do not mouth off to or pick fights with police officers or other law enforcement, or get in their way or otherwise be a hassle to them while they're dealing with other people.
  4. Whatever you may think of the issue of drugs, if you use recreational substances that are defined as illegal, do not use them in public or have them in your car or outside of your home. If you use medications or recreational substances that are legal, make sure you have the proper prescriptions if prescriptions are required, and are carrying them, using them, or disposing of them in the proper manner.
  5. Do not give consent for police searches in pretty much any situation.
  6. Do not interact with police or law enforcement, if possible, when drunk, tired, otherwise compromised, and/or in most if not all situations when you have not summoned them for help for yourself.
  7. In fact, don't interact with police at all, if you can avoid it.
  8. Don't drive under the influence of alcohol or other substances, or when extremely ill or tired.
  9. Do not do field sobriety tests - they are designed to fail even sober drivers.
  10. Don't get into fights or physical altercations if at all possible.
  11. If you have/use firearms, go read Gun Safety and follow its advice.
  12. Do not lend a firearm or a vehicle to anyone, or let anyone operate your firearms or your vehicles unless you are with them.
  13. Do not make threats, even if you plan never to act on them.
  14. Be very careful in some locations.
And finally, and MOST importantly:
  1. Make sure anyone you are sexually involved with is of age, sober, and enthusiastically consenting.
  2. Do not physically abuse intimate partners for any reason.

1) But why? Why is all of that stuff so important? (the longer explanations of each point for the pettier issues)

  • Do not mouth off to or pick fights with police officers or other law enforcement, or get in their way or otherwise be a hassle to them while they're dealing with other people. Police officers have a wide range of discretion in arrest powers. Whether the charges will stick are something else entirely, but even being arrested is something you don't want. Being respectful to cops (as hard as it may be if they're being suspicious or abusive or racist toward you) will generally make them go away, if you're not committing and have not commited a major crime. Being rude, abusive, or worst of all, violent toward them can make them arrest you, beat you, or even kill you.
    • If police officers aren't interacting with you, don't interact with them and leave them to their business, unless you are a lawyer.
    • If you are stopped in traffic, slow down, pull over, keep your hands in view. Do not argue with the officer over the ticket - this may result in a search or other problems. Challenging a ticket in traffic court is one of the easiest legal cases, so if the officer is willing to just write the ticket and let you go, that is the situation you want.
    • If a police officer that you haven't called does approach you anywhere, you want to be as polite as possible. Say something like "How may I help you, officer?" and leave it at that. The officer's reply and body language should tell you whether you are a suspect, witness, or if he or she is simply looking for a problem.
    • NEVER get violent. Do not even appear to be drawing a weapon or swinging a fist. Do not shove, flail your arms, scream, or even run or walk away until you are told you may leave. Following this advice will save your life.
    • Try to choke back that Cluster F-Bomb as much as you may feel like dropping it. They've heard it all before, and the more profane you are, the more disagreable you might seem, which is never good for staying free.
    • You will probably be very anxious or nervous at this point. Many people are (police officers can in and of themselves be a trigger for an anxiety attack). If you get asked "why are you so upset" or "you seem nervous," or something similar, state the truth: that you are afraid of police and would like to know what is happening.
    • If the officer is looking for witnesses or just randomly questioning people, this is when you can either say what you know (if you are a witness) or, if you don't want to talk at all, politely ask to end the encounter with "May I please leave now, officer?" You may add an excuse ("I really have to go to the bathroom, I need to feed my cat,") but make sure it's truthful - cops will sometimes check out such an excuse, and if you lie, sometimes they will arrest you for obstruction or lying to officers.
    • If the officer says you can leave - do so. Calmly (as much as you can, anyway) walk away and go where you said you'd be going.
    • If the officer says you cannot leave - ask for a lawyer, because you are under arrest, and You Have The Right To Remain Silent applies.
  • If you use recreational substances that are defined as illegal, do not use them in public or have them in your car or outside of your home. If you use medications or recreational substances that are legal, make sure you have the proper prescriptions if prescriptions are required, and are carrying them, using them, or disposing of them in the proper manner. This is important because in some places, it can be argued that up to 90% of arrests on an every day basis are for drugs. As depressing as this might seem to people who don't think Drugs Are Bad, it's unfortunately reality, especially in places that still have strict marijuana laws. Even legal substance use can lead to a police encounter - anything from an open bottle of alcohol in your car to having a Valium in your pocket for that speech you need to make but not having the prescription for it (if you are stupid enough to carry it in a zero-tolerance zone, anyway).
    • If you use substances that are defined as illegal where you are, make sure to keep them securely hidden in a place inside your home, only use them in a private location (such as your or someone else's home) and do not buy them on the street or especially from a "buy house" selling them like a drive through restaurant; if purchasing from someone in a vehicle, don't do it in conspicuous locations (darkened corners of large parking lots late at night in particular) or in spots that are notorious for drug deals. Additionally, if you're going to purchase from someone, make sure that they're trustworthy. If you know that they can't keep their mouths shut, have a whole lot to lose if they're hit with charges, are scummy and looking for a way to get a leg up on the competition (which usually means becoming an informant), or have behavioral traits that scream "undercover" or "informant", avoid them like the plague. A search warrant is required for private homes unless officers are let inside, and if you are not dealing or buying from a sting operation, they likely won't know or care. Doing this reduces your risk of arrest to that of most rich people doing illegal substances, and gives you time to either get bored with it and find something else, get treatment and help for your addiction and its medical issues if that is why you use, or party without clogging up the legal system with yourself.
    • Do not make illegal drugs. Even if you are only making enough for personal use, with no intent to sell at all, manufacturing illegal drugs will get you in far deeper legal trouble than simple possession or even being caught buying them will, and even buying the precursor chemicals may get you investigated by law enforcement, even if you aren't buying them to make drugs. Not to mention that it creates even more of a smell than using, leaves lots of traces of the substance, and risks creating a fire or explosion hazard, even if you know exactly how to do it "right."
      • If you live in a place where growing/making a specific substance is legal (e.g. you have a license for a home still, you live in a legalized marijuana state and are growing pot or making butane hash oil) it's still likely not a good idea to do so in heavily populated areas, because even if the substance is legal, creating it in your apartment, for example, can result in fire or explosion hazards - or even just noxious smells - and even with a legal substance and legal product, that doesn't make you not criminally responsible for damages/injuries due to things going horribly wrong.
      • If you are a chemist with a home lab or an analog photographer with a home darkroom, it's possibly a good idea to make sure it's documented or registered in any way it is required to be. If you regularly use chemicals which could be seen as precursors for drugs, you must document your supply of said chemicals and document how you actually use them accordingly (e.g. making sure all of them are accounted for at all times, and you have proof you aren't using them to make anything illegal.)
    • As another note on illegal substances, consider consumption methods that don't involve smoking or injection, especially if you're in a situation where enforcement is very strict. Eating a substance or drinking it or consuming it in another form may have different or slower effects, but smoking anything tends to create a smell that might draw unwanted attention to it, and injection is not only a huge health risk but also risks leaving needles and related paraphernalia with traces of the substance around.
    • If you use legal substances, follow the proper legal protocols for them. This means that you should keep copies of the prescriptions for any drugs you are prescribed, keeping the prescription with you any time you have the drug on you or in your car, and in the instance of some (e.g. almost anything in Schedule II, or anything such as testosterone or insulin that is administered via injections) a 24-hour number at which your prescribing doctor or someone representing them can be reached. Needless to say, do not drive under the influence of painkillers or sleeping pills or anti-anxiety meds.
      • There is a possible exception for painkillers or anti-anxiety meds and driving: if your condition is so overwhelming that you can't drive safely without it, it is possible to get a medical exemption for both as long as you prove that you are not "under the influence." That said, unless you have such an exemption don't drive having taken these, and even if you do, if you feel or others tell you are acting dizzy or sleepy, do not get behind the wheel.
    • Also, for legal but controlled substances such as painkillers, if you don't have the prescription, make sure to leave any you are using at a safe place (or flush them down a toilet) if you are seeking medical or dental help for the pain or the condition causing it. Many people in intense pain will borrow or be offered painkillers others have, and while you usually won't be arrested if opiates show up in your blood work or you tell a doctor in strict confidence that you took someone else's vicodin or oxycontin for the condition for which you're now seeking help (especially if the need was so obvious the doctor would have prescribed it anyway, e.g. you have a broken bone or kidney stones), you can and likely will be arrested if they find the actual pills on you with no prescription no matter what your condition.
    • With alcohol, don't drink and drive (see later), don't have open or opened containers in your car, don't carry alcohol out of bars in areas where doing so is prohibited, don't buy for known underage drinkers (or, for people who are of age but have underage significant others, don't buy alcohol for them and don't buy it while they're around, as law enforcement probably won't believe you if you tell them that it's only for your consumption), and if you are going to be an obnoxious, destructive drunk, don't do so in public or around people who might call the police on you for it.
    • With tobacco, heed no smoking signs (in some areas, these do have the force of law) and use ashtrays if they are provided. Also, don't buy for minors, and beware of anyone who looks like a minor actually asking you to buy for them - in slow times for police/state law enforcement in areas where they don't have anything better to do, this has actually been used as a sting operation.
  • Do not give consent for police searches in pretty much any situation. The reason for this is that even if you are totally innocent and clean, unless you have 100 percent control over your surroundings and belongings, someone else may not have been. Maybe your band's guitarist freaked out when he saw a cop and stuck his ready to go needle under the back seat of the van, even if all you'd think of doing is having a beer on the weekend. Maybe your roommate has a illegal gun, even if you are an Actual Pacifist. These things happen, and it's why that anytime police ask to search (or "do a security check" or "may we come inside and chat for a moment") you should ask them if they have a warrant. If they do not, you should thank them for their concern and politely refuse.
    • If police officers come to your door, unless they are battering it down and coming in anyway (meaning an emergency, or they do have arrest and search warrants), lock it behind you and ask to speak with them outside - or just don't answer the door unless they insist on an answer. Educate anyone you share a space with on this: police officers are never to be invited inside unless they have been called.
      • If the reason police officers are at the door is noise (e.g. barking dogs, a stereo, a party, your rehearsal ran a bit late), quiet the noise before answering the door, close the door behind you, lock the door, and offer a respectful apology (e.g. "I'm sorry, my dog got upset and I was trying to calm her down before you got here," "I'm sorry, I didn't notice it had gotten so late," "I had my earplugs in and didn't realize I was so loud, I'm sorry..."). Doing so often will get you let off with a warning, or at the very most, a noise ticket. Leaving the noise going or being a smartass to the cops almost always ensures at least a ticket, and leaving your door open or allowing the cops inside is implied consent to a search.
      • If the reason is "a security check" or "a problem in the neighborhood," or "we just want to chat," either do as above and ask if they have probable cause or a warrant, and on no, politely refuse entry. If you absolutely feel that you need to talk to the officers, follow the advice for noise visits: close your door, lock your door, and speak to them outside.
    • Regarding vehicles, denying a search is harder, but possible. Make sure that alcohol and drugs are not being consumed inside the vehicle by driver or passengers, and that nothing that even looks like alcohol or drugs or a gun is in view long before you are stopped. Roll up all windows but driver's side, shush passengers, and be polite with the officer but make it clear that you just want to get the ticket and get it over with. If there is no smell of alcohol or drugs, nothing suspicious visible, and everything else but what you are getting the ticket for checks out, odds are you will leave with just the ticket.
    • If you are on foot it is even harder, but it is worth the effort (especially if it is obvious you are incapable of concealing a firearm) to firmly and politely say "I am not carrying any weapons, and I do not consent to a search of my body." Officers may well ignore this and search you anyway, but your having said this (especially if someone else heard or it is on a recording) may make anything found in the search that isn't a weapon capable of being thrown out in court, and you may be lucky enough that the officer knows this and doesn't search you, or at least does not search areas incapable of concealing a weapon.
    • Finally, if you are exercising your rights, don't be smug about it. Be firm and do not bend no matter how much they might be trying to get you to bend, but do not taunt them or treat them like they're stupid; while they might be acting unreasonable or have no legal ground to stand on at that moment, antagonizing them will always make the situation worse and could very well get you seriously hurt or killed if the officer is having a bad day and/or is an asshole, as they could easily decide to retaliate just to "put you in your place" and correct what they see as insufficient respect. Also, if you get a reputation as someone who knows the law and uses it to antagonize cops, there's a pretty good chance that you'll eventually become a target for police harassment, as they will come to see you as a punk and will go out of their way to catch you doing something that they can use to Break the Haughty. In short, even if you are in the right, don't rub it in their faces.
  • Do not interact with police or law enforcement, if possible, when drunk, tired, otherwise compromised, and/or in most if not all situations when you have not summoned them for help for yourself. Of course there may be situations where this is unavoidable, but in most cases it is very avoidable - and avoiding it is a very good idea. Sorry Occifer is Truth in Television, as is Alcohol-Induced Idiocy - talking to cops when drunk is probably one of the worst ideas ever (as well as when angry or tired). If you don't have to talk to them don't.
    • Talking to police when one hasn't summoned them for help is generally a bad idea. If you bother them while they're working, you can be arrested for obstruction of justice or suddenly become a suspect in the crime they're investigating. Even if you're a journalist and want to know about it, you'd do better calling the department's public relations officer or listening to the scanner. If you happen upon an active arrest scene or crime scene, which does happen, you have two options:
      • Calmly, slowly turn around and walk/drive another way. This is best for avoiding it entirely.
      • If your destination would require a major detour/there's no other way there AND there's a safe path through the scene (especially if an officer waves you through it/past it) walking or driving through is sometimes okay.
  • DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK, HIGH, OR IMPAIRED. Seriously, this is one of the more common reasons non-hardcore criminals are arrested aside from drugs (as well as, obviously, being a huge cause of death and injury in car and motorcycle crashes) - and it is entirely pointless, stupid, and avoidable. Just don't do it. Party at home. Call a cab. Get someone else to drive your car who's sober. Park the bike in a safe spot and catch the bus home. Call your local tipsy tow or designated driver service. There's no reason to subject yourself to risking harming others and being arrested at the same time.
    • If you are pulled over by a police officer for suspected DUI, refuse field sobriety tests. Even if you are sober, which you should be, you may well fail these (as a test, try to stand on one leg for 30 seconds, while counting backwards in sevens or reciting the alphabet backwards) because they are designed to be failed. If you are sober, you should opt for the breath test instead as it is far more objective and you are likely to pass it unless you use an alcohol-containing mouthwash or breath spray or recently drank alcohol.
      • If you have done any of the above, you may ask for a fifteen-minute postponement of the test, and most police officers will give you that if you are not obviously drunk.
    • Another "trick" in DUI stops that often gets drivers who aren't drunk is the infamous question, "have you been drinking tonight" or similar. The reason this is a "trick" is because even if you are absolutely sober and will register as such on the breathalyzer or blood test (e.g. you had one beer or one glass of wine four or five hours ago), if you say "yes," you have admitted to and will be arrested for DUI. The correct, truthful answer to the question, if you are currently sober, is "no." Of course, if you are drunk, don't lie and say no (that will only lead to worse charges) but if over four hours have passed for under two drinks, do not say "yes." If you're absolutely uncomfortable with "no" or not sure, the best legal answer to protect your rights later is "I respectfully refuse to answer that question under my Fifth Amendment rights."
  • Avoid fights and physical altercations whenever possible. The first rule of winning any fight (and especially a gunfight) is NOT TO GET INTO ONE. If what the person did was illegal, you can call the police on them (or file a lawsuit) later on. If what they did was just stupid and enraging, you can choose to never interact with them again or let it go. Getting into a fight means that you will commit a crime (anything from the misdemeanors of simple assault and disturbing the peace to the felonies of assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, and worse) And there have been some tragic situations where even simple fights have led to chains of events that have killed the people caught up in them. So learn to control that Unstoppable Rage and chill out that hot blood, for your own sake if not for others.
    • If a fight is unavoidable due to having to defend yourself, you can only exercise reasonable force, which is usually defined as force proportionate to the threat at hand. That is to say that if someone is actively trying to kill or horribly maim you, pulling out all the stops to get away is acceptable. Notice how it's a matter of being able to get away; if you decide to turn the tables on them when you could easily escape, you can and will be held liable for anything that happens. The law makes a very clear distinction between punching someone a few times in self-defense and beating them half to death, between stabbing someone who is attacking you and going at them like a slasher villain, and between shooting someone who is charging at you with a weapon and a clear intent to do serious harm and emptying an entire clip into someone who merely threatened you (except in states with stand-your-ground laws, but we will not go there). Just because you were violently attacked by someone does not give you carte blanche to do whatever you want in return, and if you treat threats to your person in such a manner, chances are good that you'll be facing murder or manslaughter charges.
    • Also, know that even the act of inviting people to fight can get you in legal trouble. If you go up to someone at a bar and say "meet me outside, bitch", you'll probably just get ejected by the staff. If you're in a parking lot or other open public area, loudly challenging someone is absolutely grounds for a disorderly conduct arrest and can quite possibly lead to worse charges depending on the circumstances.
  • If you use firearms, know how to do it safely. You do not want to seriously injure or kill someone by accident or lack of knowledge. For example, while you may think Firing in the Air a Lot to celebrate something won't hurt anyone, doing so can get you arrested even if the bullets land safely - and if one does hurt or kill someone, think of how that would make you feel.
  • Do not lend a vehicle or especially a firearm to anyone. YOU are responsible for what happens with that vehicle or that gun. If someone drives drunk in your car or stores a kilo of cocaine in it, you are the one who will go to jail. If someone uses your firearm not to go hunting but instead to commit one of the more rare and awful crimes that does make the news - you will be arrested for it. In short, don't lend cars or guns to people unless you are observing their behavior with either directly.
  • Do not make threats. Yes, sometimes a situation can make you so angry or scared that you believe a threat (even one you know you won't follow up on) is a good idea, or you might make an entirely absurd Ineffectual Death Threat as a joke. It never is funny or a good idea to make a threat (unless you can prove self-defense and that making the threat was done to protect your life or property from imminent danger, for example, someone told you they were going to rape you and you documented that then told them if they tried you would shoot them). In many cases, a threat itself can at least be the crimes of assault or harassment, and certain threats aimed at certain people, places, or things can qualify as terrorist threats, stalking-related offenses, or hate crimes. Even if the threat itself is ignored at the time, if anything ever happens to the person you threatened, you go to the top of the suspect list.
  • If you are in a bar or club, don't be an idiot. This ties into a lot of alcohol-related issues, but some of it is largely independent of alcohol and boils down to "don't be a fucking dumbass". First off, know your limits and what you're like when you're drunk. Being a happy drunk is fine, though it will eventually become annoying. If you're a mean or violent drunk, you need to keep the drinking to a minimum or abstain altogether. If you do get drunk and act like a total asshole, you will get ejected, and if your behavior is particularly bad, the police will get called and you will be facing disorderly conduct charges at the very least. More egregious offenses, like attempting to start fights or sexually harassing patrons or staff, can and will result in arrests and lifetime bans, and if you decide to be a badass and lay a hand on one of the bouncers, you will get slammed to the ground and quite possibly placed under citizen's arrest until the cops come to cart your ass off for assault. Also, if you're going to attempt to take someone home, do not try and take home someone who is so drunk that they barely know which way is up; most states have laws governing how drunk someone can be before they cannot give consent, and if you attempt to engage in sexual activity with someone who is over that limit, it counts as rape and carries all the repercussions that one would expect. Finally, if you get banned, do not come back until they say you can. If they told you to not come back for the rest of the night, don't come back for the rest of the night; if they told you that you were never going to be allowed back, then you will not ever be allowed back. Simple as that. If you do attempt to come back before you're allowed to (assuming you are) or even just hang around in the parking lot or on the sidewalk just to see what you can get away with, the cops will be called to haul you away on trespassing charges.
    • Strip clubs have extra rules. First off, strippers are not prostitutes, and if you attempt to proposition one, they will have the bouncers throw your ass out in the blink of an eye. Secondly, you need to keep your hands to yourself. If you so much as attempt to get grabby, you will get one very stern warning at best before you get ejected, and if you do something extreme, like forcing your hand in their underwear, you will be ejected in nanoseconds and receive a lifetime ban, and the dancer is also free to press charges or sue if he or she so desires. Finally, don't be a creep. If you have a weird fetish, don't bring it into the picture. If you've got a crush on one of the dancers, get over yourself or force yourself to go when they're not around. Above all else, however, don't fucking stalk them. Exotic dancers, by their very nature, will sometimes be targets for people with bad intentions, and as a result will always have bouncers escort them out to their vehicles while making sure that no patrons exit at the same time and that no one is prowling the parking lot or waiting in their car to see if they can spot their favorite dancer. They also keep very close tabs on the fans of specific dancers, and if a dancer gets followed home or has someone find them at their other job, chances are good that they'll know who did it.
    • With regards to prostitution or escort services, please note that sexual services of that nature are illegal almost everywhere in the United States, with only a few exceptions. The safest way to stay out of trouble with prostitutes is to just not hire them. If you do plan on hiring them, remember that everyone who knows that you've hired prostitutes is breaking the law, so if you're calling some in for your friend's stag party, everyone at that party is considered to be soliciting prostitutes and can be charged. Now, nine times out of ten, the police won't arrest you and will let you off with a warning—however, it does give them a good reason to search your premises and check your credit history. See above about why that's a terrible idea: namely, you can't be 100% certain about what they'll find. Generally speaking with prostitutes the less you know about each other, the better. Don't give your name to a prostitute, or use a fake name. Pay by cash, not credit card. Don't ask for their number or anything stupid like that (it's unlikely they'll give it to you anyway). Remember that most prostitutes are well aware of the risks of their jobs, and a lot of them carry hidden weapons on their persons, so as with strip clubs, don't be an idiot. If a prostitute refuses to have sex with you, do not force him or her under any circumstances, even if you've already paid. It's still rape, just like hitting them or otherwise hurting them without their consent is still assault. Always use protection—that's just basic common sense. (It's also usually cheaper.)
  • Obey the rules of the road, be considerate, and don't drive like an asshole. We all forget certain rules from time to time and occasionally have to deal with inconsiderate, incompetent, or just plain rude fellow motorists. That being said, doing things like habitually failing to signal turns, driving well above or below the speed limit (in most states, 25mph over the limit is the general point where speeding becomes a serious criminal offense and can result in huge fines, criminal charges, and long-term license revocation; going too far below, meanwhile, is less likely to result in a ticket but can cause people to do risky or dangerous things to get around you, in addition to being extremely likely to attract police attention late at night due to the common association between extremely low speeds and intoxicated motorists attempting to not get caught), tailgating, passing on shoulders or in no-passing zones, failing to obey right-of-way, and blowing lights or ignoring signs is a). dangerous, selfish, and highly inconsiderate and b). illegal and absolutely fair game for police to pull you over and/or ticket you (or even arrest you if it's particularly egregious). Also, while DUIs are obviously a huge no-no, things like texting or accepting calls, applying makeup, or performing or receiving sexual favors are every bit as impairing and (in the case of cell phone usage) illegal, and the things that aren't explicitly illegal can still significantly affect how much at fault you are if you wind up getting into an accident. Reckless conduct is highly illegal in general, though; if you're an aggressive, ill-tempered jackass behind the wheel, you can pretty much expect to regularly get tickets and/or to get your license revoked at some point. Two wrongs don't make a right, however; even if someone else is being a dick, resist the temptation to punish them for it. This is a particularly big thing when dealing with tailgaters; while tailgating is explicitly illegal, brake-checking is just as verboten. Not only does it count as vehicular assault in most states, but it also opens you up to lawsuits from the other party and can shift some or possibly even all of the fault over to you. Even if someone's glued to your ass, just don't do it.
  • Some places require extra care.
    • You want to stay away from anything called a "frozen zone" (basically areas where cops have staged a paramilitary crackdown) or a high-security event (e.g. the Super Bowl, the Oscars). Avoid "frozen zones" entirely (and if you must go around/into them, always have up to date identification/credentials/papers, have absolutely nothing in your possession except for identification/credentials/papers, a small amount of cash/your debit or credit card, residence keys, and your transport card/car keys). High-security events are somewhat less risky than frozen zones, but don't risk carrying anything that could even be mistaken for a weapon or drugs, be aware that you may be searched as a condition of entry, and make sure to have any needed credentials (e.g. your tickets, press pass, event guest pass) available to be shown at once and that those are valid - being stared down by cops with machine guns is not when you want to find out those tickets were fake.
    • Aircraft are also areas requiring extreme care: Be prepared for extensive searches (including strip searches and cavity searches just to board aircraft/leave the airport if you're selected for "special screening" at your departure airport or your destination airport), and do not do anything that could even be percieved as "crazy" or "terroristic" - this includes filming/photography, speech above normal tone or pitch, anything that even approaches the level of "argument" or "disagreement" much less "fight," trying to light a cigarette or joint in a commercial aircraft bathroom or join the Mile-High Club in one, getting too drunk, or insisting on keeping a device on when you're told to turn it off. Whenever you're in an airport or on a plane, leave the comedy at home; even just saying "Well, thank God they didn't find the drugs" in the most sarcastic tone imaginable is still enough to have you detained by custom officials, who will not give a fig if you miss your flight and won't refund you either.

2) "I'm not a woman beater/rapist/pedo!" (A short briefing on domestic violence and sexual assault)

  • Due to political lobbying and a lot of mangling with definitions, "rape" has a pretty diferent definition in America than the rest of the world. Virtually any sexual contact with another person that did not express his/her enthusiastic consent can be twisted to a rape accusation. So be VERY careful who do you flirt with and in what conditions. Especially when there's alcohol or other conscience-altering substances involved.
    • Also remember that consent is not contingent upon where this takes place, anyone's state of dress or conduct, whether you and the other party are an Official Couple or not, whether the other party is a virgin or has had numerous partners, whether they already did ______ with you, the company they keep, their actual character or their reputation, who paid for dinner/drinks/etc. or anything else. No one is "asking for it" with their clothing, makeup, lifestyle, or presence at a party.
    • Consent must be given freely, not under pressure or duress, and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "No" does NOT mean "Convince me," or "Pester me until I give in," and "Yes" does not necessarily mean "I want to do BDSM/anal/a threesome/etc." Furthermore, consent can be revoked at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. No one owes you sex, nor do you owe anyone sex. The only time where "no" does not necessarily mean "stop" is with certain types of kink relationships or roleplay, and even then, you and your partner should discuss it thoroughly to make sure that both of you are completely okay with it, as well as having an easy-to-recognize safeword that both of you can remember.
    • Make sure any sex partner is of legal age to be in a sexual relationship with you. Having sex with minors is a crime, and there is no defense to the charges aside from "I did not have sex with that person." So unless you are willing to go to jail for a long time and be seen as a pedophile (whether you actually view yourself as one or not is irrelevant) check that ID before you do ANYTHING in bed.
    • Any form of sexual contact with minors is a crime - even if you do not know the person is a minor. This is fairly easy to tell offline, but harder online unless the person honestly discloses their age - as there are 15 and 16 year olds who write like adults, and adults who write like 12 year olds. This can be very problematic for roleplayers and fanfic writers - it is strongly advised that if you roleplay online or share explicit fanfic directly (as with a beta) you only do so with trusted friends with whom you've met offline and know are over 18 or you do so with people from a site or group or community with a strict adults-only policy (where you generally aren't culpable unless the person tells you they are a minor and you proceed anyway). If you choose to roleplay or pick a fanfiction or original fiction beta from a location where you cannot age-verify, you are taking a huge risk.
      • The same goes for sharing Explicit Content with minors. Doing so can lead to charges of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" or be seen as a conspiracy to "groom" said minor. Even if you're 18 and think your 15 year old Yaoi Fangirl friend should read that awesome fic you found, don't share it with her.
  • Do not hit your intimate partner. Ever. For any reason. This is self-explanatory, but to a lot of people it doesn't seem to be so. If you ever find yourself in a fight with a spouse or lover or other intimate parter that finds itself escalating beyond words, turn around and walk out the door. And walk for as long as it takes you to calm down. If you find yourself in these fights regularly, get psychological help and/or end the relationship by moving out or filing for divorce. There is no reason to lash out at one's partner in violence, and if you find yourself doing so, either there is something very wrong with you, with the structure of the relationship, or BOTH.
    • As a side note, yes, the Double Standard exists, so, if you are a man or masculine-identified (e.g. FTM, stone butch) do not hit a woman or female-identified person back even in self-defense if she hits you or hurts you first. Just escape, and end the relationship (to protect yourself legally, it might also be a good idea to be the first to file the police report, especially if she is obviously uninjured and you are obviously hurt.)

    US and US territories - Avoiding Civil Lawsuits 

The Short Version For Not Getting Sued:

  1. The most common lawsuits revolve around liability for injury. If someone gets hurt on your property (or property under your control), by your vehicle (whether you or someone else are driving) or by you, they can and often will sue you.
  2. The second most common cause of lawsuits (and the most common for small claims suits and evictions and the like) involve money. Documenting financial dealings, taking care to document any property you rent and read the rental contract, and not ripping people off will help you avoid these lawsuits.
  3. Corporations that believe Digital Piracy Is Evil are another reason for lawsuits, though less frequently than one might think. Taking care when pirating content (or avoiding doing so entirely) will help you avoid these lawsuits.
  4. Finally, anyone can sue anyone for anything in many countries including the US and its territories. These lawsuits, thankfully, are rare for most individuals (businesses, celebrities, and governments tend to attract them more). Also note that courts are not tolerant of truly frivolous lawsuits (those without basis in fact or law). If you are the target of one, you can obtain some fairly severe sanctions against the plaintiff (especially perennially frivolous litigants; these people are classified as "vexatious" litigants, and can end up with very limited access to the courts) and his or her attorney (who can be disbarred, suspended, or heavily fined for bringing frivolous litigation).note If you bring frivolous suits, be prepared for the consequences, which include public humiliation on the record (i.e. transcribed by a court reporter). Judges really don't like having their time wasted, and if you do, they will eviscerate you.note 

1) So how do I not get sued?

  • Liability:
    • Take care to not have injury risks on your property or property under your control, and to warn (verbally at least, and preferably with signage) of any potential injury risks. If someone could fall onto it, through it, or over it - it needs a warning and to be repaired. If someone could drown in it, get poisoned by it, get attacked by it - you must have proper signage warning of the danger.
    • Drive carefully, and have insurance on your vehicle. Don't lend your vehicles to others or let people you do not entirely trust drive them.
    • Don't get into physical fights.
    • If you use firearms, maintain them, lock them up when not used, do not lend them, and only shoot them in properly designated ranges or hunting areas.
  • Financial Arguments:
    • Document any financial transaction you have, especially if it involves taxes, payroll/payment for services, the sale or purchase of merchandise over $500, or property.
    • Always read everything related to property, rentals, leases, or the like for residences or vehicles - if you can't understand it, possibly pay a lawyer to go over it.
    • Never pay a deposit in anything that doesn't have a paper trail. Cash does not work for deposits.
    • Provide fair pay for anyone you are paying and whatever you do, don't back out on promised pay or goods, even if you are angry at a poor job done or find a better deal or whatever. The exception is when someone who is under contract fucks up bad enough to compromise the integrity of the contract; this is defined as "inferior performance", and it is absolutely a legitimate reason to significantly reduce the amount that you pay them or to outright refuse to pay them altogether. If this is the case, you might even have a reason to sue them if they refuse to make it right and you have to hire someone else to fix it, or if their incompetence results in personal injury or property damage. You should still go over it with a lawyer before you go this route, however; there is nothing like thinking you're in the right by refusing to pay the electrician who did such a shitty wiring job that he short-circuited half of your property, only for him to sue you to get his money and the judge to rule in his favor.
    • If you are in a legal mire over taxes, do not use anything that could be considered as a frivolous defense. Tax authorities have heard and seen it all before, and despite what you may think, you are not saying anything new and the interpretation of the law that you're using for your argument is expressly incorrect; also, using them after you've been told to shut up will probably get you hit with contempt charges. Anything beyond this (frivolous litigation, frivolous returns, "paper terrorism") will get you in deep, deep, deep shit, which can mean massive fines, being branded a "vexatious litigant" (which can prevent you from filing anything without court approval), and possibly even prison time.
  • Piracy
    • The easiest way is simply not to pirate.
    • That said, if you do choose to engage in piracy, it's often a good idea to limit the amount you do it/spread it out, use anon proxies and other means of guarding your identity, and to, if possible, stick to materials that aren't the active target of litigation. For example, the odds you will be sued over downloading an arthouse Cult Classic that left active sale four years ago, or a song that a band actually wants spread around as much as possible/is on an album that is no longer sold, or a game that isn't sold anywhere anymore at all are far, far lower than the odds you will be sued over the latest Hollywood blockbuster that hasn't even hit video yet, a popular song that is in wide rotation and sale or by a band that seriously believes Digital Piracy Is Evil, or a game that just hit store shelves yesterday. The closer something gets to being Abandonware or its equivalent in most cases, the less likely, generally, you are to be sued over it.
  • Other causes of lawsuits:
    • Plagiarizing something and selling it as your own is a bad idea, generally.
    • Don't make public, accusatory statements about people unless you can back it up or it is obvious opinion (something that cannot be proven true or false). For example, "Bob is in The Mafia" is potential slander or libel as it is an objective statement of fact that can be proven false (e.g. if Bob is not in The Mafia he can sue you). "Bob is fat and ugly" is, while abusive, not an illegal statement because it can't be proven true or false (e.g. there is no objective fact of what "fat and ugly" is).
    • Don't bad-mouth a particular religious movement that must not be named, unless you are really, really sure you are out of range of their legal artillery (that means, in a country where they are banned). Even you think you can prove your statements, you have to outlawyer their army of lawyers, who are pretty much adept at sophistics.

Police ForcesUseful NotesYou Do Not Have to Say Anything

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