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The Criminality of the Absurd: Outdated or Irrational Laws in the U.S.

One aspect of criminal activity deals with actions that many would not assume to be illegal at all, but for a host of historical, political and social reasons have come to be banned, either at a national, state or even local level. When it comes to some of these illegal products or practices, you may be engaging in criminal behavior without even knowing it.

Many such laws have entered the popular imagination through the publication of humor books and board games based on “dumb laws”.

A new paper written by Eli Lehrer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute takes on the topic of government regulations gone wild, or as he puts it, “clearly absurd product bans that seem to serve no social good”. These “dumb laws” may be the dumbest idea to hire a criminal defense attorney.

Lehrer chooses five representative laws as the “Five Dumbest Product Bans” in the United States. His list is thought-provoking and informative. Let’s take a look at the five laws that Lehrer studies.

Sangria is Illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia

A holdover from an earlier time when alcohol restrictions were tighter in Virginia, an obscure law prohibits mixing wine or beer with spirits. And that means the popular Spanish drink sangria. A recent legal case concerning a bar fined by the state Alcohol Beverage Control board for serving sangria the traditional way, wine mixed with brandy, has brought this law under scrutiny. A bartender who serves this illegal concoction could go to jail for up to a year.

But this particular ban doesn’t stop the drinking of these spirits or aid in the prevention of intoxication for say, drunk driving. In fact, considering the fact that drinks with the same alcohol composition as sangria are legal, the specific ban on “mixing” liquors just doesn’t hold water (unless of course it’s a cocktail on the rocks).

It should be mentioned that state lawmakers have taken note of this particular absurd ban, and will vote in this legislative session about whether to repeal the ban.

Nationwide Ban on Playing Poker for Money Online

With the advent of televised Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments and the rise in superstar status of those proficient in this “sport,” it may be surprising for most people to learn that online poker playing for money is illegal. It’s not just a state law, but a federal one. Thus, even in states in which virtually all types of gambling are legal (Nevada of course being one of these), online gambling is illegal.

In his article, Lehrer points to several reasons why banning online gambling is a silly idea. Firstly, banning online gambling does nothing to stop gambling, because gambling in casinos is perfectly legal in 48 states. Maybe most importantly, he points out that online gambling hasn’t been stopped by federal bans, because the Internet makes it easy for offshore operations to skirt the laws.

Cardio-Pump Designed to Aid CPR – Banned in U.S.

A device called the “Cardio-Pump”, which was first marketed in the early 90s as an improvement over normal CPR methods in resuscitating victims of cardiac events, was banned by the Food and Drug Administration after studies showed that using the Cardio-Pump greatly improved survival rate on patients on whom the pump was used within the optimal time window of 10 minutes after the event.

Why, then, the ban on Cardio-Pump? In a study on the Cardio-Pump in St. Paul, MN, researchers distributed the Cardio-Pumps randomly among groups of EMTs and paramedics to be used in place of standard CPR methods. However, because those treated by the Cardio-Pump method could not consent to the “experimental” procedure in place of the standard CPR methods, the FDA halted the study.

Many in the medical community were outraged, citing the need for informed-consent regulations to be modified in such cases, where the benefits of new research had to be tested in the field and could not be fully studied without access to patients in conditions that did not permit them to consent traditionally. Many European countries use the Cardio-Pump with marked success, though it appears that for the foreseeable future, no implementation will be permitted in the United States.

No Selling of Flowers without Taking a Licensed Exam in Louisiana

If you want to sell flowers in the state of Louisiana, you can’t just pick a bunch from the side of the road and sell them. The art of flower arranging is governed by the Louisiana Horticulture Commission, and in order to have the right to sell and/or arrange flowers, they expect you to take a floral exam. Don’t feel like taking the exam, or think you shouldn’t have to? Sorry, it’s a state law.

The Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of underground flower-arranger Sandy Meadows, who believes that the state board of florists writing and judging the exam have a vested interest in discouraging competition. (Note: the lawsuit was dismissed as moot in light of the events of Hurricane Katrina.)

Feathers = Sex Toys in Alabama, Texas and Georgia?

Though many courts and lawmakers have been seeking to modify out-of-date morality laws banning adult shops and sex toys in certain states, several states still have these laws on their books and enforce them. But what about non-sex toys that might be used as sex toys..? Well, the language of Alabama’s law against sex toys is highly ambiguous.

Even if the item isn’t necessarily a sex toy – Lehrer’s example is a feather – if it can be used to “stimulate the genitals” and the product is marketed as being able to improve your sex life, it’s illegal. The work-around? If you don’t suggest it’s for your sex life, but rather allude to “personal use,” then you’re fine.

Also, there is no ban on possessing sex toys or, in this Internet age, on ordering them online. There is no ban against pornography, herbal supplements designed to improve your sex life or non-genital-stimulating sex toys. Similar laws exist in Texas and Georgia, as well as Mississippi and Arkansas. In short, Lehrer wants to know, what’s the use?


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