We are all criminals now.

When I was in law school I wondered at the complexity of the law and was amazed that I had not run afoul of its prohibitions more often in the past. I imagined myself fortunate to to have avoided trouble and felt relieved that I was “safe” because now I knew the law and could avoid its pitfalls. Stupid me.

A lawyer can hold just so much law in his or her head, so what really happens is that he is constantly learning how he broke the law and didn’t even know it. The rest of you are breaking it all the time, too, but you never realize it until you get caught.

TombstoneI was researching the disposal of animals (some guy had dumped a load of carcases in a ditch) when I was horrified to realize I’d recently committed the crime of burying our family cat (which had died, of course) in my back yard, complete with a paint-lettered tombstone. It turns out you can’t bury your dead cat (or hamster or even a goldfish) unless it is 50 feet from the property line and 300 feet from the neighbors house. Section 269.020, RSMo. That was a little tough to do in my neighborhood.

And I may be breaking other laws without knowing it. Did you know that you’ll pay a $100 fine if you allow any musk thistle to go to seed on your property? Section 263.190, RSMo.

Musk Thistle I’ve got a little wooded section at the back of my yard. I don’t go down there much, but even if I did, I don’t know what a musk thistle looks like. [FLASH UPDATE: I googled the musk thistle and that’s one in the picture]

Have you moved since you renewed your driver’s license? If the Department of Revenue drew your name from a hat and sent you a letter last summer demanding that you prove you have insurance, you may have missed that letter. Sp you didn’t respond. By now, of course, your license is suspended. If you get caught driving, you will be arrested, handcuffed like the criminal that you are, and taken to the county jail. The punishment is 48 hours to a year in jail and a year-long revocation of your license. The law can be tough.

Of course sometimes the law pretends to be tougher than it is.

How often do we hear that law enforcement is going to “crack down” on drivers not wearing their seat belts? They make it sound as if they will be watching for you and pulling you over if you don’t wear your seatbelt. It’s all bogus, as they well know. They can’t pull you over and ticket you for it in Missouri unless you commit some other traffic offense. Every year, the highway patrol spends the whole spring trying to get the mandatory seat belt law passed and then spends the rest of the year pretending that they succeeded.

If you’ve been told to fear “wildlife checkpoints” on public highways during deer season, it’s just more propaganda. Law enforcement cannot (without reasonable suspicion) pull you over to check if you have an illegal deer in the back.It makes you want to laugh and cry. They cleverly make you think you are a lawbreaker to get you to do what you don’t have to do. Meanwhile, you are probably committing five other offenses you’ve never heard of.

It won’t be long now before the legislature is back in the saddle, ready to amuse and alarm us with dubious proposals against openly selling baking soda, motorcycle stunt driving and other horrors. I will keep you posted when the time comes.