Can I Be Charged With A Crime If I Didn't Know It Was Illegal? (2024)

Unfortunately, in most cases, ignorance of the law does not let you off the hook if you have committed a crime. You can still be charged for doing something illegal even if you did not know that it was illegal. If you have been charged with a crime, do not delay. Contact a Bergen County criminal defense attorney and get serious about fighting these charges.

How Can I Be Charged for a Crime If I Had No Intent?

You can be charged with a number of crimes even if you did not know that an action was against the law or if you had no intention of breaking the law. If people could claim ignorance of the law every time they were charged with something, it would be extremely difficult for the courts to function. This would just be the go-to defense for any criminal any time they did something wrong!

There are also laws known as “strict liability” laws that can be enforced even when a defendant is “morally innocent.” A good example of this would be a clerk who sells alcohol to a minor. If that clerk believed that the person they were selling alcohol to was over 21, then they were morally innocent. There was no intent to break the law. However, they did break the law. If charged, they are going to have to fight back and do everything that they can to avoid punishment.

What is the Difference Between “Mistake of Fact” and “Mistake of Law”?

There are also concepts known as “mistake of fact” and “mistake of law” that are important here. Mistake of fact can be used as a defense, but mistake of law cannot. A mistake of fact might be someone selling a stolen electronic device that they thought was obtained and sold to them legally. A mistake of law would be if someone sold a stolen device not knowing that selling stolen property is illegal.

Do I Need a Defense Attorney?

Even if you did not mean to commit a crime, hiring a defense attorney is still a good idea. Depending on what you are accused of, you could be facing harsh punishments like heavy fines and a long stay in a prison cell. Trying to defend yourself may not work out so well. Your attorney can:

  • Help you decide on a defensive strategy
  • Get evidence against you thrown out
  • Answer any questions that you have
  • Negotiate plea deals with the prosecution, if necessary
  • Handle all communications on your behalf

Schedule a Consultation Today

If you have been charged with a crime, do not try to defend yourself by saying that you just did not know you couldn’t do that. This is unlikely to work. Instead, contact the Law Office of Attorney Conway. We can schedule a consultation and take a closer look at your case. Then an experienced defense attorney can help you defend yourself.

Can I Be Charged With A Crime If I Didn't Know It Was Illegal? (2024)


Can I Be Charged With A Crime If I Didn't Know It Was Illegal? ›

Can I be charged with a crime if I didn't know it was illegal in New Jersey? Regardless of whether you did not know something is illegal, you can still be arrested and subject to harsh penalties.

What if I didn't know something was illegal? ›

As judges like to say, ignorance of the law is no defense to criminal charges. There are exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of crimes don't require that the defendant know that their conduct is illegal. As generally applied, this rule isn't controversial.

Will I only be charged if there is enough evidence? ›

The grand jury listens to the prosecutor and witnesses, and then votes in secret on whether they believe that enough evidence exists to charge the person with a crime. A grand jury may decide not to charge an individual based upon the evidence, no indictment would come from the grand jury.

Is not knowing something is illegal a defense? ›

In California and elsewhere in the United States, ignorance of the law cannot be used as a defense as per a fundamental legal principle. People charged with criminal offenses would begin claiming ignorance if it was accepted as an excuse.

Is knowing about a crime and not saying anything illegal? ›

Under federal law, a person who knows that a felony crime occurred and remains quiet can potentially face criminal charges. The federal offense called "misprision of felony" appears in 18 U.S.C. section 4.

What could happen if I do something illegal without realizing it was a crime? ›

That is to say that, even when an individual isn't aware that they are doing something illegal, they will almost always be arrested and convicted so long as the act was committed intentionally. The law can be complicated, and humans are prone to mistakes.

Can you get in trouble for seeing something illegal online? ›

Watching stolen content on the internet is illegal (see above), and certain kinds of content are illegal in all forms. For example, if you engage with child p*rnography in any way – including watching it online – you could be arrested and charged with a crime.

How much evidence is needed for a charge? ›

There must be reasonable grounds to suspect that the person charged committed the offence. It must be possible to obtain further evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. The seriousness or circ*mstances of the case warrant an immediate charging decision.

What is considered insufficient evidence? ›

Primary tabs. Insufficient evidence is the evidence which fails to meet the burden of proof and is inadequate to prove a fact.

How much evidence is enough to convict? ›

HOW MUCH EVIDENCE IS ENOUGH TO CONVICT SOMEONE? A criminal conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest evidentiary burden in American jurisprudence. Meeting this requirement is the prosecution's onus meaning they must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In what kind of crimes is mistake not a defense? ›

Mistake is not a defense to a strict liability offense. For example, Raquel lives in a jurisdiction in which the sale of alcohol to minors is a strict liability offense. She does her best to check identification whenever selling alcohol at her store.

What is not a possible defense for committing a crime? ›

The fact that a crime is impossible to commit does not constitute a defense to the attempted act.

What is ignorance defense? ›

The Model Penal Code §2.04 provides that “ignorance or mistake as to a matter of fact or law is a defense if: the ignorance or mistake negatives the purpose, knowledge, belief, recklessness or negligence required to establish a material element of the offense; or the law provides that the state of mind established by ...

Can police tell you who reported you? ›

Calls to the police are a matter of public record. You can ask the police officer who comes to your door who called. If they know, they will try to figure out if it's best to tell you. If they don't; they will tell you it was anonymous.

Can I go to jail for something I did years ago? ›

In many states, certain crimes don't have a statute of limitations, meaning the prosecutor can file these charges at any time, even if 20, 30, or more years have passed since the crime happened. These crimes tend to be murder, treason, and rape offenses. A few states have no statutes of limitations for any felony.

What is it called when someone knows about a crime but does not report it? ›

Failure to report a crime, also known as misprision of a felony, is a crime committed when someone is aware that a felony has been committed but fails to disclose it to the authorities. The crime stemmed from English common law, which required citizens to report crimes or face criminal charges.

Can you get in trouble for Googling illegal things? ›

As a whole, searching content is inherently a legal activity, no matter how illegal or dark the search terms might be.

What happens if you look up something illegal? ›

Using a search engine to search for illegal internet activity is a crime, and police can use your search behavior, search history, and social network to establish intent or conspiracy to commit a worse offense like possession of child p*rnography or even murder.

Can you get in trouble for something you didn't do? ›

Wrongful arrests and false accusations happen all the time. Don't just assume everything will be okay because you're innocent. Even innocent people can be wrongly convicted. You should contact a criminal defense attorney when you become aware of an investigation or arrest.

Is it illegal to think about something illegal? ›

It is not illegal to think about committing illegal acts — such as in the case of civil disobedience — as any law that would criminalize the mere thought or suggestion of committing an illegal act would be a free speech violation.


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