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.
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- An early Marvel parody comic satirising The Comics Code had a group of villains compaining about the clause that enforced The Good Guys Always Win:
"Knowing us baddies always gotta lose!""There oughta be a law!""There is! That's why we lose!"
- Parodies in the popular MAD article, "New Laws Congress Should Pass Right Now", which later begot a sequel.
- Star Trek: Nemesis:
Worf: Romulan ale should be illegal.Geordi: It is.Worf: Then it should be more illegal.
- Ironically, the trade embargo against it had been lifted three years earlier, after the Romulans joined the Federation in the Dominion War, with no indication (until Nemesis) that the embargo was reinstated afterwards.
- Judge Dredd:
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 Ankh-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. This is played realistically in the end: While the laws worldwide are changed to recognize the goblins' personhood, the murderer of a goblin girl cannot be charged even then because it wasn't illegal at the time. Vimes' Hypercompetent Sidekick handles that problem with a Vigilante Execution.
- Also occasionally Vimes 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."
- Ankh-Morpork actually does have a Being Bloody Stupid Act, though it's rarely enforced, probably because, as mentioned above, the Watch doesn't have enough time or available cells to arrest everyone who violates it.
- 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.
- Don Quixote:
- Parodied when don Quixote doesn’t want to pay for a day in an inn; he tells the Innkeeper there should be a law that forces Hospitality for Heroes on Knight Errants like himself.
- Parodied again when don Quixote wants to suggest to the King of Spain that he must fight The Empire of Turks with Troops making a law where Spain Calls For Aid to all the Christian Knight Errants.
- Played straight when the Canon makes a small Character Filibuster asking for a law to regulate Theatre in Spain and so avoid excesses and revenge between actors and society that is obviously an Author Filibuster from Cervantes himself.
- Played straight when Sancho Panza becomes a Reasonable Authority Figure and imposes some reasonable laws at the Barataria Insula.
- Played with twice by Fudge and Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. During Harry's trial Dumbledore states that there is no law stating that the Ministry can hand out school punishment; Fudge murmurs "Laws can be changed". When Dumbledore overrules Umbridge, forcing her to re-form the Gryffindor Quidditch team, she calls up Fudge and receives a nice educational decree ("Oh, not another one!") giving her absolute power.
- In A Civil Campaign, 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.
- Sherlock Holmes: In "A Case of Identity," Holmes figures out the identity of the wrongdoer - who is very quick to point out that he hasn't broken any law.
“The law cannot, as you say, touch you,” said Holmes, unlocking and throwing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!” he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man’s face, “it is not part of my duties to my client, but here’s a hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to—” He took two swift steps to the whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the road.
- Towards the beginning of the second book in The Riftwar Cycle, Princess Carline says to her minstrel lover that there should be a law about relationships like theirs. Laurie replies that there is - and under that law, his father is entitled to compensation for her having taking advantage of him (The law was written under the assumption that the situation would be a high-born male seducing a common-born woman, not a common-born man seducing a high-born woman).
- 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.
- Law & Order: SVU does this quite a bit, naturally.
- One case involved a 17-year-old girl who 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 it.
- 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.) In real life there would be the possibility of bringing him up on rape charges, as the women only consented to protected sex, and since he knowingly changed the circumstances of the encounters, they were nonconsensual.
- 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.
- A different episode featured recorded video footage. The ADA compares this case to another one that got a conviction whereas this one won't and comments that it isn't wire tapping because there is no audio and laments that the law has yet to catch up to technology.
- An early episode features Cabot going after a life insurance company who failed to inform the health department (who would, in turn, have notified the patient) about a patient's case of syphilis, which allowed the disease to go untreated until it destroyed the patient's brain, causing him to become delusional and believe that God was commanding him to kill. note
- Law & Order: 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, which is itself incredibly illegal in modern systems. The judiciary enforces the laws as they are, it doesn't make them. 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:
- The episode "Hunters" has two bounty hunters get off on murder charges due to the loose definition of the law where recapturing fugitives is concerned. The judge concluded 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- A doctor running a fertility 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 to be 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 a new legal precedent, that's his problem.
- The show does play this for comedy at least once, in an early episode where Cerreta and Logan are interviewing a video store clerk:
Clerk: These kids were in here. Trying to get all kinds of hardcore stuff. Can you believe it? There oughtta be a law!Cerreta: There IS a law.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent doesn't feature this one as frequently as some of the other shows in the franchise, but it does happen a few times.
- "Magnificat" has a heart-wrenching example in the case of Paul Whitlock, an extreme emotional abuser whose wife kills three of their four children in a botched murder-suicide attempt. It becomes clear that Whitlock was responsible for pushing his wife to the edge, but because he didn't actually have a direct hand in the incident, there is no way for him to be held legally accountable. Everyone involved is understandably upset by this fact.
Goren: He could have prevented this crime, but he won't take responsibility for that! Mr. Carver! Isn't there something in this book that can make him take responsibility for that?Carver: (regretfully) There wasn't when I checked this morning.
- "Magnificat" has a heart-wrenching example in the case of Paul Whitlock, an extreme emotional abuser whose wife kills three of their four children in a botched murder-suicide attempt. It becomes clear that Whitlock was responsible for pushing his wife to the edge, but because he didn't actually have a direct hand in the incident, there is no way for him to be held legally accountable. Everyone involved is understandably upset by this fact.
- 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, 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.
- CSI: NY:
- The episode "Prey" had a stalker Asshole Victim who had already caused a victim to kill herself while performing 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.
- The Practice did this constantly - most cases were thinly-disguised attempts to promote one agenda or another.
- 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.
- Century City was set 20 Minutes into the Future, so it often did this for issues that haven't come up yet, either seriously (clones need rights) or less than seriously (surgically created Hermaphrodites are disgusting).
- 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 oughta 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?
- One episode of Murdoch Mysteries had a Jerkass who Really Gets Around get a woman pregnant and then want nothing to do with her. She ended up dying horribly from drinking too much of a deadly substance trying to abort the baby. The lead characters lament being unable to arrest him despite him being technically responsible for her death, as being a philanderer isn't illegal.
- Saturday Night Live's parody of fear mongering by local news stations:
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, M.E., 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.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- In "The Survivors," a Husnock ship attacks and destroys a human colony. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that one of the inhabitants is secretly a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who, none too happy about having all of his neighbors and his wife wiped off the face of the planet, proceeds to use his sciencey-magic Energy Being powers to eradicate every Husnock in existence, all fifty billion of them, in a fit of grief. When all this comes out, Captain Picard says, "We are not qualified to be your judges. We have no law to fit your crime." While this is not strictly true, the fact that Picard would have no way of enforcing any legal punishment against such a being likely has more to do with it.
- Lt. Barclay 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 regulations.
- One episode of Star Trek: Enterprise had Captain Archer, after a harsh debate over trying to save a lesser-advanced species from extinction, muse that, one day, Starfleet would have to make "a Directive" to prevent themselves from playing God.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- In a Bremner, Bird and Fortune "Two Johns" sketch parodying what bankers were saying after the banking crisis, hedge fund manager Sir George Parr at one point says the crisis was the government's fault for not making his actions illegal.
- Oscar Leroy of Corner Gas is a Grumpy Old Man who constantly annoys the local cops, demanding the arrest of people for doing things he doesn't like. In one episode they assumed he was dead just because he hadn't called in with any complaints in a while.
- In The Frankenstein Chronicles, Body Snatching is treated this way. John Marlott is incensed to see bodies being sold practically in the open, and asks a body snatcher how he gets away with it, only to be told "A corpse isn't property." In reality, body snatching was illegal at the time, but as a corpse genuinely wasn't considered a kind of property, body snatching was just a minor misdemeanor. In practice, authorities simply let it happen as it was seen as a Necessary Evil until the passage of the Anatomy Act, around which the first series of The Frankenstein Chronicles revolves.
- Red vs. Blue has this between the Chairman and the Director when it comes to light that the Director tortured an AI copy of himself to get personality-fragments. When confronted with the evidence, the culprit openly admits to the act, but points 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.
- Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: Strangely, very little of what the villains 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 kidnap Daphne. 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.
- 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. This is rather questionable given that we saw her derail a roller coaster with Scooby and Shaggy on it, and almost got the others killed by removing a safety net over spinning fan blades.
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!
- 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 Simpsons:
- The Amendment to Be wants flag burning to be against the law because "those liberal freaks go too far".
- Homer, on homosexuality:
Homer: You know! It's not... usual. If there was a law, it'd be against it!
- On an episode of Beetlejuice the Ghost with the Most says, "Rules...there ought to be a law against them!!
- 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!"
- In 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.
- In the Family Guy episode "Internal Affairs" Joe and Bonnie have a falling out. After Joe tells Peter his first date took place at a strip club, Peter and Lois try to get the two to reunite there. Lois has lunch with Bonnie there, leaving Peter to bring Joe. He does that by calling the police and telling Joe there is a problem.
Peter: Well, one of the dancers was dancing with a guy and saying, "You're my favorite, you're my favorite," but now she's dancing with another guy.
Joe: That's not a crime.
Peter: Well, shouldn't it be?!
- In the Spongebob Squarepants episode where Squidward moves into Tentacle Acres, a cephalopod only gated community, after yet another one of Spongebob's shenanigans, he eventually becomes so bored of how monotonous his routine's become, that he starts behaving much like Spongebob. When the citizens corner him and try to evict him for citing all the nuisances they listed against him, he retorts with:
Squidward: Grievances! This town is a grievance! There should be a law against so many stuck-up tightwads living in one place! This city needs to be destroyed! Or at least, painted a different color.
- 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. Regardless, legally you can't consent to your own 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.
- In the same vein, necrophilia is not illegal in and of itself in most countries.
- During World War II, the Imperial Japanese armed forces killed and ate POWs and indigenous peoples of the countries they occupied. Since cannibalism was not technically a war crime, they were tried for murder and "prevention of honorable burial", resulting in at least one death sentence.
- There's the case of Megan Meier, who killed herself 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, didn't get arrested, because local authorities have not found any law broken under which their actions apply. However, it didn't stop the entire town from permanently shunning those involved or having some of them post their addresses and other personal information online so out-of-towners could harass and vandalize them.
- 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 reinstated a disused law against it.
- One of the other men involved was charged with a crime relating to the incident, but it was for trespassing on the farm where the horse owners were unaware of the shenanigans, which got him only one year in jail. Nobody involved could be charged with animal abuse either, since the horses certainly weren't injured.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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 and New Jersey completely legalizing (in RI's case)/failing to forbid (in NJ's case) any form of consensual incest (although, we should note, both still forbid incestuous marriages).
- 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.
- Child pornography laws were only codified in The '70s in many countries (The '90s for Japan), because its existence was unknown to most people and there was an explosion of its availability during this period. The Meese Report documents printed CP being sold in US cities' adult shops as late as 1986. A 1995 issue of TIME reported to a shocked populace that there was 1) porn on the internet and 2) such a thing as 'pedophilia'.
- And in fact, upon learning that The Internet Is for Porn, they (the US Congress) did pass a law against it, the Communications Decency Act of 1996. However, it was extremely broad in some of its language, and could have been used to prosecute any person who uploaded pornography on the Internet in a manner that a minor could access (because we all know minors don't lie about their age). It was struck down by the US Supreme Court the following year (Reno vs. ACLU), and another act with the same intent, the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, was blocked almost immediately after it was passed, and also later struck down by the Supreme Court.
- In the UK, when banker Fred Goodwin helped further ruin an already-ruined economy and then awarded himself a huge pension, the Government tried to find a way of calling him out on it but failed because everything he'd done was perfectly legal. This caused much public outrage, to the extent where some people apparently thought the Government should just temporarily pass a law that being named Fred Goodwin was illegal. It was further conflicted by the fact that Parliament do have the powers to confiscate his pension, but doing so would either violate contract law, or be a passing bill of attainder, which, while actually legal in the UK (and was actually one of the reasons for The American Revolution), is seen as immensely improper to do in any advanced democracy.
- 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 restriction because 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, presumably the same people could be trusted 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?).
- A variation of the argument for banning the sale of violent games was the insistence that the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating on the packaging be made larger, which most people pointed out was ridiculous since movie ratings on DVDs are minuscule in comparison and are only featured on the back, whereas ESRB ratings are large enough easily spotted, are far more descriptive concerning software content, and are on both sides of the package.
- Averted in Australia, however, where films and game ratings are enforcable by law and so selling MA15+ or R18+ rated products to children is illegal. It's also illegal to show R18+ films or games in a public place.
- 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.
- There now exists a federal law forbidding folks from "[protesting] at funerals at cemeteries under control of the National Cemetery Administration and at Arlington National Cemetery", likely directed at the WBC.
- This is a good time to point out that the United States laws on Freedom of Speech are some of the most liberal in the world and that language that would be classified as hate speech in many other Common Law countries is perfectly legal in the United States. A Supreme Court case overturned a ruling against WBC in an 8-1 decision took specific note that they did not condone the actions of WBC, but that constitutionally, they were in the right. United States Courts as a whole are loathed to violate Freedom of Speech and the default setting on any Freedom of Speech case is that the speech in question is valid and the party trying to limit the speech must meet high burdens of proof that it was not. This has had the strange effect of making the United States home to the largest Post-WWII Nazi Party in the world (We're still talking in population percentages that are lower than 1%. It's not strong because it's widely supported, but because the Freedom Of Speech laws in the US are so open that it cannot be outlawed.). Some may say this is unintended, but most Americans counter that it is the intended consequence. The First Amendment wasn't written to protect agreeable speech, but disagreeable speech, after all. American's on a whole do not trust government, so they feel that it is better to let the fringe like the Nazi Party and WBC speak than to give the government power to limit speech it disagrees with.
- In 1980, Rhode Island sought to reduce some of their harsher penalties for prostitution, but the legislation wound 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 center 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.
- Different localities have tried to legislate against internet trolling on the grounds of combating 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.
- And speaking of the UK and violations of free speech, there is now legal precedent similar to that of Germany's censorship laws over the Count Dankula case * , which certainly begs the question of how the court might treat the aforementioned winding up if it happens to be of a political nature.
- 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".
- This 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."
- The UK, on the other hand, has prosecuted upskirting under the criminal offence of "outraging public decency", which is vaguely worded enough to apply to just about any kind of bizarre sexual behaviour unpleasant enough to convince a jury that it should be illegal, as long as it is committed in a public place.
- 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.
- Older Than Steam: In 1742, several homeowners in Cities of London and Westminster petitioned to criminalize the provision of false employment references, as many uses fake references to invoke The Butler Did It. This culumulated in the Servants’ Characters Act 1792 (Discussed in Page 248 of this) which did exactly that. The law was repealed in 2008 after having unused for a very long time and can be covered by other laws.
- Legal highs. They get invented, they get criminalized, the dealers invent a new one. The British government is drafting a blanket ban on any "substance for human consumption that causes a psychoactive effect", with a hasty exception for caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and food. This prompted some people to wonder if the legal high equivalent of a pot brownie would qualify as food.
- In many US states, there has been a conflict where laws allow people to marry at lower ages than they can have sex. The Colorado Supreme Court once ruled that a 14 year old girl could get married, but having sex with her husband would count as statutory rape. Following this the legislature raised the age of consent to marry so it would match that for having sex. While many state laws have a specific exception in the age of consent statutes for marriage, that's not always the case.
- The Catholic Church in the US has been sued for many cases of concealing child sexual abuse by priests. However, it has never been charged with a crime, as it's not actually legally required for crimes to be reported in most cases (or at least wasn't when this occurred).
- This is the origin of Italy's 41-bis prison regime: after noticing that convicted terrorists were still coordinating with their organizations, the Italian parliament authorized a prison regime that effectively blocked a convict's means to communicate with the outside, and extended it to some other criminals after realizing that the Mafia was doing the same.
- The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was forced to throw out a rape case because the state's legal definition of rape didn't cover excessively inebriated or unconscious victims. A state representative who had helped write the laws that the court used in its decision promptly announced that he would start work on a bill to amend the law to cover these situations.
- Italy first abolished the death penalty in 1889, but after the assassination of king Umberto I many invoked reinstating it just to execute the killer. It was not, and the killer received a life sentence, and died a year later (officially of suicide, but murder is suspected).
- Older Than Feudalism: The Bona Dea scandal, in the aftermath of which the Roman Senate passed a special law expanding the definition of sacrilege in order to prosecute the aspiring politician who crashed a women-only religious ceremony Disguised in Drag.