Ask the Attorney: What if I Was Charged for Something That I Didn’t Realize Was Illegal?

Ignorance isn’t always bliss, especially with the law. The courts could hold you accountable for your actions regardless of your knowledge of the law. Find out what legal defenses are available if you’re charged with a crime you didn’t know was illegal and how to navigate such unexpected legal waters from an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney

Can I Be Arrested if I Didn’t Know Something Was Illegal in Washington?

You could be arrested, tried, and convicted of a crime even if you did not know that something was illegal. It depends on the criminal charges against you and the legal elements the state must prove to obtain a conviction. 

For example, it is difficult to argue that you did not know theft or murder was against the law. However, you might not be aware that it is illegal to go out in public with a cold. Revised Code of Washington §70.54.050 makes it a misdemeanor to willfully expose someone to any infectious or contagious disease in any public place. While the police do not generally arrest people for being in public with a cold, it is technically against the law.

Lack of Intent and Mistake of Fact as a Defense to Criminal Charges in Washington 

Criminal intent is a legal element of many crimes in Washington. That means the prosecutor must prove that you acted with intent. The type of intent may vary depending on the criminal charges. For example, the prosecutor might need to prove that you acted purposefully or knowingly. This level of criminal intent could be more challenging to prove than acting recklessly or negligently. If the prosecutor cannot prove the intent required by law, you are not guilty of the crime.

A defense attorney may argue diminished capacity as a defense. Diminished capacity means a person is incapable of the mental state required to form the intent to commit a crime. For example, a child might not have the maturity to form intent to commit a crime. Likewise, a person with a mental illness or cognitive impairment might not have the capacity to form the required level of intent to commit a crime. 

Mistake of fact is not based on ignorance of the law. Instead, the defense argues that you were reasonably and honestly mistaken about key facts of a situation. For example, you honestly believed that you had permission to be on someone’s property. The property owner gave you permission to camp on the property whenever you desired.

Therefore, you reasonably believe you could camp on the property. However, the land was sold without your knowledge. The new owner did not post any trespassing signs or any other warnings to trespassers. Your attorney may argue you were not trespassing as you had a reasonable belief you had permission to be on the property. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

You could face jail time and other penalties for a criminal conviction, even if you did not understand the law. The best way to protect your rights and freedom is to work with an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney. Schedule a consult with Jennifer today to review your case.