Friday, April 24, 2009

The letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law

I've noticed many cases where I'll be doing something that's technically illegal, but given the circumstances has no bad repercussions. It's moreso than just doing it with no cops around. I'll try and explain with some examples.

You're at a stop sign. There's a car in front of you. You want to turn right. You can clearly see the road in both directions. A spot opens up and the car in front of you goes, and you notice you can safely turn right and do so. As in, when they go, you advance forwards and then make your own turn without re-stopping at the stop sign.

The letter of the law says that you're supposed to stop at the stop sign. Being the second car in line doesn't count as actually being at the stop sign. Yet the spirit of the law is to get you to stop and observe the situation and make an educated decision about when to continue your journey. This situation, while technically illegal, is still perfectly plausible.

Another example. You're at another intersection, this time with a traffic light and a "No Turn On Red" sign. It's 4 AM, there are no pedestrians, and the light has a ten minute cycle, meaning you're going to be sitting there for a while waiting for it to turn green. However, since there are no pedestrians, you make your right turn and go on with life.

This is once again illegal. After all, the "No Turn On Red" sign is there for a purpose. This intersection is in a highly foot-trafficked area within a state university. Disallowing turning when the light is red can easily prevent 99% of all pedestrian injuries. However, as previously stated, it's 4 AM and there are no pedestrians. It's always going to be illegal to do that right turn on red, but the pedestrians the turn restriction is there to protect aren't there, so safety isn't an issue.

As you can see, there are plenty of situations where understanding the spirit of the law technically brings special cases where the letter of the law can be justifiably questioned. However, this kind of works against us as well, as in this next example.

The speed limit on the road you're driving on is 25MPH (typical two lane residential street). There's no traffic, no pedestrians, and nobody backing out of a driveway or wanting to enter from a side road. The letter of the law states that the speed limit is 25MPH, plain and simple. The spirit of the law is to make sure that people on the road are going a speed that gives them enough time to react to changes in conditions, and to some extent, to cut down on noise. In this situation, it's possible to be going faster than the speed limit and still be in control of the vehicle, and without endangering anyone else. If it's during the day, you're only going to be bothering the nocturnal people who apparently don't have the right to a good day's sleep. Grr.

Oh I thought of another example.

You've been at a friend's place, and had some alcohol (not much, I'll use tonight as an example since this actually happened about an hour ago, so you've had an ounce of irish cream, an ounce of strawberry irish cream, and maybe two ounces of a cheap kahlua knockoff, and you're a fat bastard who can handle your alcohol). It's been a few hours since your last drink, you know your limits and definitely know you're not truly impaired, yet at the same time you figure that if you were to be pulled over, you'd fail the breathalyzer. The letter of the law states if you're over a certain BAC, you're under the influence. However, the spirit of the law is taking the typical range of lightweights and heavyweights into account and providing a general guideline as to what is considered safe. While probably being over that BAC, you're not really impaired and in fact make it home without event, issue, or interruption.

If the spirit of the law means nothing then I guess there's three things I've done before. Not that I haven't ever broken the speed limit, but I try my best not to, since it saves gas.

Also, lol disclaimer: The above post is not intended as legal advice and should not be interpreted or construed as such. I am not a lawyer, I'm just a 26 year old NEET with nothing better to do. If you do something stupid and get caught, you're a moron. Also, I'm not responsible for your actions and decisions.

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