In the scheme of things, The United States is a very young country. But 245 years is enough time for a government to pass thousands of laws, revise those laws, undo those laws, and replace them with more. Then consider that thousands of state, country, and local governments across the country have been doing the same this whole time. Add to the mix, the U.S. is an intense cultural melting pot, wherein dozens of ethnicities, religions, and organizations have vied for social prominence, with their relative contributions varying wildly across space and through time.
As you’d expect, it has led to some interesting clauses, addendums, caveats, and loopholes in what is or is not legal in a given place. Here are ten of those laws, laws that are unique, surprising, ancient, or just plain baffling- but which you might be breaking right now.
Being in a Bar While Drunk
Just like the weird laws regarding the sale and serving of alcohol, every state has its own peculiar laws about how you need to behave once you’ve drunk it. With a few exceptions, being drunk in public is illegal across the country. Even those states without their own law against it allow their cities and counties to enforce their own penalties. In Michigan, it’s specifically illegal to be drunk on a train. In New Mexico, it’s illegal to wakeboard while drunk. In Wyoming, it’s illegal to be drunk inside a mine. But one of the best comes from Alaska. In Alaska, it’s illegal to be drunk… in a bar.
The law reads that it is illegal for a drunk person to “remain within licensed premises or to consume an alcoholic beverage within licensed premises.” Anyone who serves you is an offender, as well, as the law says that they may not “sell, give, or barter alcoholic beverages to a drunken person.” I like the idea of bartering for drinks at bars. I sell the family donkey, you give me a bottle of Macallan. She’s in good health, so I’ll need at least an 18-year.
Using Someone’s Internet
Alright, this is the last time we’ll dip into The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The trilogy is complete. There is a piece of the Act that makes unauthorized use of a computer network illegal. Like the rest, this sounds sensible. And in many ways, it is- there are legitimate hackers out there who use access to unprotected connections to steal information from unsuspecting victims, which is generally referred to as piggybacking. However, with the advent of wifi and devices that create automatic, casual connections with nearby wifi sources, the law has become murky. For instance, many smartphones, tablets, and laptops automatically search for and connect to wireless signals as they move.
Depending on your interpretation of the law and the definitions of “authorized” and “access,” an innocent drive through a shopping complex with a smartphone activated could mean you’ve broken federal law a dozen times within minutes. Further, all 50 states have their own laws regarding unauthorized internet use, which at times helps clarify the matter, and at times complicates it even further.
Michigan has its fair share of cheaters. This isn’t some weirdly specific stereotype you’ve never heard of, just a matter of statistics. There are some everywhere. But unlike in other states, cheating in Michigan is against the law. The Michigan Penal Code reads, “Any person who shall commit adultery shall be guilty of a felony.” Pretty straightforward.
But it gets strange, continuing with “and when the crime is committed between a married woman and a man who is unmarried, the man shall be guilty of adultery, and liable to the same punishment.” That’s right, for some reason if a man has an affair with another man’s wife, he is an adulterer too, but if you reverse the genders and a woman has an affair with a married man, it is no longer adultery for the woman. So a lesson to all you Michiganders: stay faithful. Unless you’re an unmarried woman sleeping with another woman’s husband. Then go nuts.
Using Another Name Online
That Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is back, this time about the names you use online. Basically, this law says that if a site requires you to use your real name, failure to do so is a federal crime. The logic being that you, with your given name, need authorized access to the site, and the online you, without your given name, is the one getting the authorized access. So you, the real you, aren’t authorized. The Act labels this “hacking.” You’re digitally trespassing and can be fined or even jailed.
The principle behind this is sound- you cannot fraudulently pretend to be another person- but in practice, this leads to a lot of tricky grey areas and common, benign offenses. For someone like myself who hasn’t used their birth name in years, signing up for certain websites with their new name is a crime unless they’ve legally changed their name. And let’s face it, we all make fake email accounts to sign up for extra free trials.