By Luis Bravo
Luis Bravo is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania studying sociology.
Whether it be through an article circulating in your Facebook newsfeed or an interest story on the evening news, every so often there will be a report of antiquated, absurd, and outrageous laws still present and active in cities across the country. Admittedly, some of these laws are rather humorous. In the small town of Quitman, Georgia, for example, chickens are not allowed to cross the road (oh, the irony!). Similarly, other laws are just plain bizarre, like in Mohave County, Arizona where individuals caught stealing soap must utilize the soap until it is completely gone.  But however amusing these laws may be, there are a multitude of other obscure and antiquated laws that can be, and have been, adversely enforced. These dormant laws, hidden deep within local and state legal codes, can be the difference between a violent criminal being sentenced or acquitted.
Such was the case in California, where the court of appeals reluctantly released a rapist citing an obscure state law from 1872. In February 2009, Julio Morales snuck into an 18-year-old woman’s bedroom after a night of heavy drinking, pretended to be the woman’s boyfriend, and proceeded to rape her while she slept.  Though this strikes most people as a heinous and certainly punishable offense, Morales’s defense team presented an old law to the court that restricts rape to married women. In other words, had the woman been married and Morales pretended to be her husband, it would have constituted as rape. In 2013, a panel of judges sitting in California’s appeal court had no choice but to release him and drop all charges, citing legal incongruities. In 2010, a similar Iowan law allowed for the acquittal of another convict in a comparable case. Since 2012, this law has been revised to extend the definition of rape so that all women, regardless of their relationship status, are protected under the law.
However, while these covert laws can be utilized to release a criminal, other buried laws can be applied to convict apparently innocent individuals. In July of 2012, Gary Harrington, a man from rural Oregon was sentenced to thirty days in prison and fined a hefty sum of $1500 for simply collecting rain water within his property.  His conviction was the result of a 1925 law that prohibits residents from withdrawing water from the public’s supply. According to reports, Mr. Harrington kept three small reservoirs to collect rainfall and melted snow on his own property. When authorities caught wind of this, he was arrested and subsequently cited for breaching the state’s water use laws. Since accepting a guilty plea deal of three years probation, Harrington has continually attempted to appeal the decision as he believes that the water he collected does not fall under the municipalities justification and denies ever violating the outdated 1925 law.
Without a doubt, the presence of old and relatively unknown laws results in sentences disproportionate to the crimes committed. While some laws can simply be ignored and not enforced, other laws (especially those regarding capital and otherwise serious offenses) should be repealed. The question is, why haven’t local and state officials removed many of these laws already? The simple answer is money. Repealing a law is an expensive and rather time consuming process; in many cases, removing outdated laws is not a feasible option nor does it equate to a sound investment.  Though we should collectively place more conscious effort to curtailing the adverse effects of these types of laws and pressure our local government officials to take action, because of the ludicrous time and monetary investment, it may just be that we will have to continue reading about strange and irrelevant laws in the centuries to come.
 Robinson, Christina Sterbenz and Melia. "Here Are The Most Ridiculous Laws In Every State." Business Insider. February 21, 2014. Accessed February 18, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/most-ridiculous-law-in-every-state-2014-2
 Goldman, Russell. "Court Frees Rapist, Rules Only Married Women Protected by Law." ABC News. January 4, 2013. Accessed February 18, 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/US/calif-court-finds-single-woman-protected-rape-law/story?id=18132972
 Alleyne, Kendra. "Oregon Man Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail -- for Collecting Rainwater on His Property." CNS News. July 26, 2012. Accessed February 18, 2016. http://cnsnews.com/news/article/oregon-man-sentenced-30-days-jail-collecting-rainwater-his-property
 Newman, Lily Hay. "Bizarre Regional Laws In the U.S. Are Even Weirder Than You Thought." Gizmodo. October 20, 2013. Accessed February 18, 2016. http://gizmodo.com/the-u-s-has-a-ton-of-bizarre-regional-laws-1448678982
Photo Credit: Flickr User Mr.TinDC
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