9 Laws Almost Everyone Breaks

By Michael Avery in Facts and DIY On 23rd October 2015


If you ask most people whether or not they're habitual criminals, they'd probably laugh before defining themselves as law-abiding citizens. Are they lying? It all depends on how you define "law-abiding." While most of us abstain from obvious crimes like murder or kidnapping, an astonishing segment of our civilized society is technically breaking laws left and right on a regular basis. Some of it is out of sheer ignorance that a law exists, some of it is due to certain laws being archaic and unenforceable, and some of it stems from a "F*ck it, I'm not hurting anyone" mentality.

American legislature is a strange beast that's constantly evolving, creating new laws, modifying existing ones, all while ignoring archaic ones that are in desperate need of being struck down. Regardless of their legal standings, we're not encouraging anyone to partake in any of the activities we've listed here. In all likelihood, we don't need to. The data speaks for itself, and while not everyone breaks these laws, a good chunk of you do.

So no matter how saintly you think you are, there's a very good chance you've broken some or all of the laws on our list of 9 laws everyone breaks.

9. Throwing Out An Old Tenants Junk Mail

It sucks when people don't update their contact info after they move and you wind up coming home every day to an overflowing mailbox full of junk that doesn't belong to you. Sure, the first few times, you'll be a Good Samaritan and politely label each pre-approved credit card offer or coupon book "return to sender" and hope that the mailman takes it back. But when junk keeps piling up in your mailbox, the temptation to just throw it away also mounts.

Even though it's not your fault and you're the one being inconvenienced by it, it's a federal crime to open, tamper with or destroy someone else's mail. You probably won't get caught, but considering the penalty could be as much as a $250,000 fine and a five-year stint in a federal prison, you're probably better off calling the post office to tell them that the irresponsible jerk who forgot to update their info doesn't in fact live at your house anymore.

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8. Gambling

Laws on gambling vary from state to state, but there's a good chance you're breaking them. Have you ever participated in a fantasy football league at the office or had the boys over for a night of cash poker? If so, you've broken the law. Again, most cops and lawyers wouldn't waste their time trying to shut down your small-time game or an office pool, but that doesn't make these activities any more legal. You up your odds of getting caught if you, as the house, make any profit on your games, either through a rake or through selling drinks or refreshments. If you're making a profit regardless of the cards you're dealt, it becomes a federal crime. So, uh, if you want to have some good, clean fun, try sticking to gentlemen's bets or strip poker. Actually, maybe not that last one.

7. Smoking Marijuana

The times they are a-changing. The combination of a costly, failed drug war and the need to kickstart the U.S. economy has lead to some progressive ideas when it comes to marijuana. At the time of this writing, Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have legalized weed for recreational use. However, if you reside in one of the other 46 states, you're still breaking the law every time you light up a joint. Even with a prescription, you're only safe in the 19 states that allow for medicinal marijuana use. Whether or not you wind up in the slammer or with a simple fine for smoking depends on which state you blaze in -- more restrictive states like Arizona classify marijuana possession as a felony, whereas in New York's decriminalized environment, you'll probably get off with a small fine, if that.

Still, "I shouldn't because it's illegal," is something you'll never hear said in a smoking circle.

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6. Owning A Sharpie

Sharpies are a staple of every office supply closet. Everyone's used a Sharpie, whether to label a moving box, make an impromptu sign, or just because they love that one-of-a-kind smell. Pretty innocuous right?


As far as the government's concerned, that Sharpie in your hand is a graffiti tool and you don't want to get caught with one in a public place. And whatever you do, don't sell or give a Sharpie to a minor, cause they're not allowed to have one under any circumstances. We know this sounds like someone's idea of a joke, but the 13-year-old Oklahoma student who was arrested for having a Sharpie at school in 2010 probably wasn't laughing when the cops took him to a juvenile detention facility for accidentally marking up his desk when his Sharpie bled through the paper he was writing on.

5. Tax Evasion

What's that? You always pay your taxes? I bet you do. Though I'd also bet that you don't pay everything you owe. Forgetting the abhorrent loopholes that multinational corporations have become experts at exploiting, your average taxpayer also makes a ton of fraudulent claims. As far as the IRS is concerned, the bulk of fraudulent reporting comes from self-employed restaurateurs, shop owners and car dealerships who all tend to underreport income.

Beyond that, self-employed taxpayers also regularly overclaim their expenses. That comedy show you took your buddy to is not a business expense. Neither are all the miles you racked up the summer you followed your favorite band on tour. Statistically, you're very unlikely to get busted for tax fraud, but you should still beware. In cases of negligence, you can find yourself having to pay an additional 20% in penalties on top of your overdue bill. However, if investigators determine you willfully defrauded the government, you could be looking at 75% in penalties and jail time. Think about that the next time you try to write off a Valentine's Day dinner with the wife.

4. Prostitution

You can relax. No one's accusing you of soliciting sex from a professional. We're just saying that the world's oldest profession continues to thrive due to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are shelling out to satisfy their sexual desires. In the United States, prostitution is a $14.5 billion-a-year industry. On average, 80,000 Americans are arrested annually for soliciting sex. While the majority of them will receive a small fine, repeat offenders may get brief jail sentences.

That may not seem so bad, but keep in mind, soliciting sex comes with a whole subset of risks. You have a 1-in-5 chance of being robbed during an encounter with a prostitute, and about the same odds of ending up with one who's harboring an STI. Even if you're fine with those odds, you probably wouldn't feel too sexy if you knew your prostitute's backstory which is statistically likely to include being abused as a child, drug addiction and a desperate desire to leave the business.

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3. Speeding

Cops aren't likely to be too bothered by your speeding. It creates a never-ending flow of easy pickings for them when they need to write some tickets, and I'm sure most boys in blue would rather you follow the "flow of traffic" than wind up in a ditch after being rear-ended for going too slow.

Just be careful not to become a serial speeder or you could eventually lose your license -- a circumstance which sucks no matter what city you're in.

2. Digital Piracy

The internet has radically reshaped old notions of distributing content. Since the mid-'90s when music piracy really began to take off, people have been gorging on free content while labels and production companies have tried to litigate their way back to relevance. Piracy has become so simple that it's often easier to find a torrent of an album or TV show you want rather than look for a legal alternative, which can be riddled with DRM or saddled with a licensing agreement that keeps you from consuming your media in the country of your choice. Given how abysmal the legal options are, coupled with the fact that most people don't feel guilty if superstars make a few million less per year, it's no surprise that practically everyone is pirating media to some degree.

None of these rationales actually make sharing, copying or downloading media legal though. If you're one of the unlucky people to be criminally prosecuted for piracy, you could face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Civil penalties could be tacked on to that at a minimum of $750 per song. Again, the odds are in your favor for getting away with it -- but could your bank account survive a potential lawsuit?

1. Sodomy

Sodomy laws are legal leftovers from a time when the church had enough influence to enact rules preventing non-procreative sexual activities, particularly outside of a marriage. These laws were effectively invalidated in 2003, thanks to the Supreme Court's decision on Lawrence v. Texas, but they do remain on the books in 14 states. So even if you're ultimately let go, you could still be arrested and prosecuted for participating in oral, anal or gay sex in various regions of the United States, (meaning you'll wind up in handcuffs you never intended on wearing).