The Serious Side of Law

The Innocent Man  Dealing with law enforcement, courts, judges, and correctional institutions is serious business. I have the utmost respect for the law and love when it functions the way it was intended. We all know though that sometimes things go wrong. Politics may get involved. Money may be an issue in obtaining competent representation. Overcoming public opinion or media bias may be factors in the outcome of certain criminal trials. Mental illness may also complicate many cases.

Once again this topic of law is so vast there is no way I can do it justice in just one or two blog entries. The broader categories I’ve read through are (general) law, law of nations, constitutional & administrative law, military (defense, public property, public finance, tax, commerce [trade], industrial law), labor law (social service, education, cultural law), criminal law, private law, procedures & court,  laws, regulations, cases and law of specific jurisdictions, areas (socioeconomic regions, regional intergovernmental organizations). It’s been difficult to choose just a few books to comment on. In my last post I commented on the lighter side of law. In this post I will comment on a couple of book types. The first type are true cases gone awry and the second type are self help books.

During my library read through, I’ve encountered several books which talk about things that have gone wrong. One such book is The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town  by John Grisham.

Innocent Man

In this heartbreaking book Ron Williamson, former pro baseball player for the Oakland A’s,  was accused of a crime he did not commit. Grisham documents the unbelievable (but true) events that landed an innocent man in jail and the appeals process which ultimately got him out. During the incarceration period, much damage was done and mental and physical health concerns were negelected. The man who was unjustly sent to prison was not the same man who came out.  In this case (and many others I have read) mental illness was a factor.

While I would love to comment in depth on the mental health issue alone, for now I will suffice it to say that we as a society need to step up and take some responsibility in these types of situations by ensuring that the mentally ill receive proper treatment.  For anyone with a conscience, I highly recommend this book.

There are several types of legal self help books available. One that I consider extremely noteworthy is The Easy Will and Living Will Kit by Joy S. Chambers, Attorney at Law.

The Easy Will and Living Will Kit

This book is written in easy to understand language and walks the reader through the entire process of creating the most common legal documents needed. The author explains when these forms are enough for legal purposes and when one might need to go beyond these forms and consult an attorney. Additionally various state laws are addressed when using do it yourself forms.

My husband and I were already discussing some legal forms we need to have (a result of my read through in the economics section!). This book answered many of our questions and sometimes brought up topics that we hadn’t necessarily considered or aspects of topics we hadn’t realized were necessary. For instance, do you have a plan for the care of your pets in case you are suddenly unable to care for them? Will they have to be relocated to another home if something were to happen to you? Do you want to be the one to specify the terms of their care? How will you provide for their needs (food, shelter, etc)?

Most people need to have three major legal documents on file:

  1. A simple will (this leaves all property to one person such as a spouse or a child)
  2. Financial Power of Attorney (this is used in emergencies when you are temporarily or permanently unable to manage your own finances)
  3. Health Care Advance Directive (aka a Living Will to make your wishes about your medical care known)

The book will point out certain situations when an actual attorney should be consulted. In most cases though, one can just fill out the proper forms and take them to a notary public and have them notarized to make them legal.

Not only does this book do a great job explaining legalities, it provides hard copy forms with examples, explains who needs which forms, and also has a CD Rom included. The CD Rom is extremely user friendly and allows the user to just click and fill in blanks.

Going further still, the book explains how to store your copies safely, where to store your copies (I found some of this surprising), and who you should give copies of what forms.

Overall I would say that this is a very thorough book for the average person and well worth the reader’s time to check out!


The Lighter Side of Law

Bath Law

The next Dewey category in my read through library project pertains to law–which can be serious or hysterical (and often both at the same time).  I plan to split “Law” into two posts, so here is the lighter side. These are actual laws in the United States unless otherwise noted. It is strongly advised that you do not take a drink of anything while reading through these!

Being a bit of a Bigfoot fan, I was attracted to this first book for reasons which should be obvious.

Emergency Sasquatch

This is actually a very interesting book and of all of the books I encountered in this category, it’s the only one that came with a test to indicate if it needed to be read. There was only one test question which I will copy below.

Which of these statements is false?

  • The earliest surviving written law code mentions beer.
  • The ancient Greeks had strip searches, but the one who searched was the one who stripped.
  • It’s illegal to import skunks into Tennessee.
  • It is legal to mail someone a live scorpion.
  • A Florida town’s ordinances contain a 249 word definition of “buttocks.”
  • Tibetan lamas must get a permit before reincarnating.

If you can identify the false statement above, you may skip this book and move on to the next one. If however you can not say with 100% accuracy which statement is false, you really need to read this book.

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance is laid out into types of law: ancient, the US, States, Cities, and US Territories. I found this a very interesting read.

The next book I want to share is Wacky Laws, Weird Decisions & Strange Statutes.  This is a fun book not just because of the funny laws, but you can also turn the information in this book into a team game or an individual game. The rules and scoring for the game are explained at the back of the book, but essentially you hear an actual case and then try to figure out what the court ruled. There are various points awarded if you win your case either in lower court or on appeal. When I played this game, it seems I had a talent as an appeal court judge!

Wacky Laws

I will share some of the laws from this book below.

  • Taking a bath during the winter months is against the law in Indiana.
  • Each driver on a country road in Omaha, Nebraska is required to send up a skyrocket every 150 yards, wait eight minutes for the road to clear, and then drive cautiously, blowing the horn while shooting off Roman candles.
  • A parent in Indiana cannot drink beer if a child is in the same room.
  • In Vermont you could be fined $200 if you denied the existence of God.
  • There was an ordinance in Belhaven, North Carolina permitting a sewer service charge of “$2 per month, per stool.” That has recently been revised to read “per toilet.”
  • One cannot attend the theater in Gary, Indiana within 4 hours of eating garlic.
  • Any man who constantly kisses “human beings” is forbidden to have a moustache if he lives in Indiana.
  • It is necessary to document any services performed by a jackass in Baltimore.
  • Speaking English in the state of Illinois is illegal. In 1919 author H.L. Mencken had a statute revised establishing “American” as the official language.
  • A law in Maine calls for a legal hunting season on attorneys.

I found more humor in You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant 101 Real Dumb Laws by Jeff Koon and Andy Powell.

Dumb Laws

The laws I read in this book can speak for themselves.

  • In Alabama it is illegal to pretend to be a nun.
  • In Belton, Missouri it is illegal to have a snowball fight.
  • It is illegal to intentionally burp in church in Nevada.
  • In Conyers, Georgia no one may get the attention of any student in school without official permission.
  • You may beat up anyone who says really nasty things to you in Georgia.
  • Eavesdropping on your own conversation is a felony in Illinois.
  • In early May all US citizens should recognize the importance of the transportation system.
  • In North Dakota no one can be arrested on the Fourth of July.
  • In Indiana one can avoid paying for a dependent’s medical care through prayer.
  • Anyone under eighteen playing pool in Kentucky must have a note from his or her mom or dad.
  • In Tennessee children may not play games on Sunday without a license.
  • In Tennessee it is illegal for an atheist to hold any public office.
  • In Indiana it is illegal to color a bird.
  • By Alaskan law the entire state rarely has emergencies.
  • In Oklahoma hamburgers purchased on Sunday can only be eaten in the restaurant.
  • It is illegal to reproach Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost in Massachusetts.
  • In Salt Lake City, Utah a person can be imprisoned for one month for not returning a library book.
  • In Oregon it is illegal to pump your own gas unless you own the dispensing device and are properly trained.
  • In South Carolina only fruit may be sold by itinerants within a half mile of a church.
  • You may not affix the US flag to a bar of soap that is for sale

Yes folks, these laws represent your tax dollars at work. There are many, many more of these laws. I would be interested in any funny laws you would like to share in the comments section.