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the accidental criminal: is he really a criminal?

By Charley Daniels

But a yellow sign is just a suggestion, right?Most of you probably think it’s real easy to stay on the good side of the law, but what does that really mean? I do more legal things than illegal things, because let’s face it, most things aren’t illegal. That said, is there anyone who does only legal things? I don’t know how you could. Everyone breaks the law at some point, and maybe without even knowing it! That’s because the line between lawful and criminal often hangs on a nuance or detail. Like, it’s not illegal to sleep in, unless you’re in a bed that’s in a house that you’re not technically supposed to be in. A small detail.

It’s totally legal to steal away into the night, but most other kinds of stealing are not allowed. That seems picky.

It’s not illegal to kill someone with kindness, because that’s just a cliche. Unless the person actually dies, then it’s probably illegal unless you can prove you didn’t mean to actually kill him. Also illegal: if Kindness is the name of your pet crocodile.

Drinking and singing is fine. Drinking and dancing is encouraged (with some exceptions). Drinking and painting, drinking and video games, drinking and passing out in the living room — all fine. But the moment you drink and kidnap a politician’s kid for ransom, the law comes down on you big time. Who can keep all this straight?

Can you be an arsonist without committing arson? Probably technically, but then what kind of pathetic arsonist are you really?

It’s perfectly legal to look out your neighbors’ windows, if they’ve invited you over to hang out. But — even later that same night — if you decide to look into the same exact windows at 3 a.m., it’s suddenly against the law.

I hope I’m not confusing anyone by pointing out how often the difference between legal things and illegal things is too close to call. Here’s a tip: If you’re unsure whether what you’re doing is ok, just stand still a minute, take a deep breath, and listen for sirens. If you hear them, well, that could be your answer (also, run!). If you don’t, it isn’t really a definitive answer, but at least you know that what you’re doing isn’t illegal yet. Perception is reality, and if no one is around to perceive your activities and call the police, the reality is you should keep doing whatever you want.

Sometimes it seems like it just comes down to verbs. Verbs are a part of speech that police officers and district attorneys accuse you of doing “blatantly” and “without regard to other people’s well-being.” You know, verbs. It’s very polite to say hi to someone, but if you try to get high with someone, prepare to face the consequences, especially if that someone is an undercover officer. Identify a safety hazard, you’re a hero; create a safety hazard, you’re in trouble. Who can keep track of what’s right or wrong when such subtlety is at play?

In the end, it all comes down to math. Or luck. Or some combination of the two that no one has invented a word for yet. Luckmatics. And even though determining the difference between legal and illegal is difficult in theory, in practice it’s actually pretty simple: When in doubt, odds are it’s legal. And even if it’s not, there’s a luckmatical chance you won’t get caught anyway, so go for it.

photo: Scott Kroeker


  1. Kiala wrote:

    This totally activates my jail anxiety.

    Thanks a lot Charley.

    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  2. Charley wrote:

    Opposite of what it’s suppose to do! Another Sin Pies failure…

    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  3. Jeff wrote:

    This is the greatest blog post in the history of blogs. Win.

    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Charley wrote:

    I don’t know about all that, but what you just said was definitely the greatest blog comment in the history of blog comments, as decided by me. Thanks!

    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  5. Robert wrote:

    Here is my litmus test for legality:

    Is it awesome? Probably illegal. Can you do it in Texas? Probably illegal (unless you are in Texas). Does the church look down upon it? Probably awesome! (see first test)

    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  6. Jeff wrote:

    The thing about legality though, and I learned this by watching a documentary about the Warlocks on History Channel, is that laws only apply to you if you apply yourself to laws. Sure, you might break a law when you toss a grenade into The Outlaws’ Boca Raton clubhouse, but does that law apply to you? Not if you say it doesn’t.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  7. Mike wrote:

    Luckmatics … is that what you use when you’re playing poker?

    Monday, January 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  8. Charley wrote:

    There’s no matics involved when I play poker.

    Monday, January 19, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  9. Luckmatics. I’m going to use that from now on.

    What is the luckmatics that I’ll start this book review and stop dicking around on the internet? Or luckmatious. Or luckmalacious.

    Someone get me a lucalculator.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  10. Mike wrote:

    Stale. Where’s the new?

    Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  11. Robert wrote:

    I feel like I’ve read this post before.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

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