30 Illegal Things Practically Everyone Has Done
Yes, you've got quite the rap sheet.
Breaking the law is something most of us strenuously avoid, but there are actually a slew of illegal things that even the most conscientious people do just about every single day—and usually get away with. These may be minor infractions we know we shouldn’t do (but make a habit of when we see everyone else doing it), or laws we break without knowing they are laws in the first place. Read on for 30 weird things that are illegal that you’re likely guilty of doing at least once in your life.
Using Public WiFi
You need to get online and spot an open network, so you hop on. Called “piggybacking,” this is a crime in many states, punishable by fines and even jail time in extreme cases. For example, in Sparta, MI, a man was arrested for checking his email from his car using a café’s WiFi and was eventually charged a $400 fine and 40 hours of community service.
Singing Happy Birthday
“Happy Birthday to You” is the most recognized song in the English language, according to Guinness World Records, but until 2016, it was illegal for you to sing it (at least to sing it on a recording or film). The song’s writers, Mildred and Patty Hill, had copyrighted it and the use of it was prosecuted until a ruling two years ago stipulated that the song was in the public domain.
Using a Fake Name Online
When you just want to buy something online and they make you “register” or if you’re signing up for something you might be embarrassed to have found out, you’ve probably popped in some kind of generic name into the fields to avoid disclosing your real identity. Well, that’s against the law according to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was used to prosecute a Rhode Island prison guard in 2010 for creating a fake Facebook profile for his boss.
Though streaming services have made it less necessary to download albums, we all had our Napster phase where we scoured the service for obscure tracks and classic albums. You’ve probably still got a library of illegal things buried somewhere on your hard drive—just don’t let Metallica find out about it.
C’mon…Who hasn’t? You may abstain from alcohol for moral, religious, or health reasons, but it’s tough to find someone who has held off on having a beer before their 21st birthday due purely to respect for the law.
Playing Poker With Friends
Yep, your poker night could very well be illegal—though you’d have to be inviting some pretty high rollers. The Illegal Gambling Act of 1970 states that it has to have revenue of more than $2,000 for one day of gambling to technically break the law. But it’s not impossible that a long night of high-stakes Texas Hold Em could lead you down that path of illegality.
Eating Something Before You Bought It
You’re dying of thirst and have a drink in your hand that you’re planning to buy. You know you’re going to crack that open and enjoy it as you do your shopping, rather than wait to fill your cart with everything you need first. Just as long as you pay for it when you get to the register, chances are low that you’re going to run into any issues.
Downloading Movies and TV Shows
This one you’ve probably done more recently. Whether trying to get the latest episode of Game of Thrones without paying for a monthly HBO Now subscription, or tracking down an obscure movie you can’t find on streaming services, we’ve all acquired a movie or show we had no legal right to.
Sharing Your Password
Maybe you tried to save a friend from having to illegally download movies by sharing your Netflix password with them…and in the process broke the law yourself. It’s actually considered a federal crime to share your passwords for subscription services—not that you haven’t already done it.
Using Your Cell Phone While Driving
This one’s a bit more serious than most of the illegal things on the list so far, in that it can actually get people killed. But many of us are still getting over the habit of checking our texts or chatting on the phone while we’re behind the wheel. Thanks to Werner Herzog and other public service messaging, we are finally putting the phone down, but the bad habit persists.
Not Updating Your Driver License When Moving
Most states require that you alert your Department of Motor Vehicles that you have moved, and some are stricter than others. But when you are moving to a new state, is getting to the DMV office really the first thing you are going to be worrying about? Probably not until a year or two later when you get fined for it.
You knew that old bottle of Vicodin you got for your foot surgery would come in handy someday, and sure enough, your buddy who was visiting threw his back out and couldn’t make it to the doctor’s until he got back home. But even if it helped him get through the return flight with a lot less pain, you were breaking the law by helping him out.
This is illegal in pretty much every city, but enforcement varies widely. While Los Angeles makes a lot of revenue by ticketing those who cross the street illegally (though no longer for those who enter a crosswalk after a countdown signal starts) while New York City barely acknowledges it.
While laws are changing fast from one state to the next, you’re still more likely to be breaking the law when you light up than not. According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, a majority of Americans said they have tried marijuana “at some point in their lives.” Forty-four percent of Americans say they currently use weed.
Not Getting a License for Your Dog
Almost all states require that you register your dog, showing that it is up to date on its rabies shots.
Possessing a Permanent Marker
Proving to be one of the more weird things that are illegal, anti-graffiti laws in states such as Florida and New York make it illegal to possess “aerosol cans” and “broad-tipped indelible markers” on your person. Chances are that if you are found with them, they would just be confiscated rather than resulting in jail time or fines—unless you were using them when you were caught.
Writing “Disturbing” Material
If you enjoy writing genre fiction or blog posts that could unsettle readers, you could potentially be in violation of laws in some states that prohibit the writing of “disturbing material.” A high school kid in Oklahoma found this out when he wrote a not-very-wise short story on his school computer that got him into hot water.
All right, if you’re a decent person you hopefully don’t do this too often, but we’ve all had dropped the occasional straw wrapper or apple core and just let them lie. It’s not that we felt good about doing it, there was just nowhere else to put it.
Throwing Out Cell Phone
Speaking of disposing of something properly, e-waste is illegal in many places due to the chemicals and nasty metals that they produce over the long run, which can end up in water supplies and cause other health risks. That being said, you were totally lazy and just threw your phone into the garbage when you finished with it, didn’t you?
Driving Over the Speed Limit
When was the last time you actually went the speed limit? Though technically it’s illegal to exceed the speed posted on those signs, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t regularly go faster than they are supposed to. Unless they are…
Driving Under the Speed Limit
Also technically illegal, you’ve probably done this when trying to be extra careful of your driving or when you are trying to figure out if you missed a turnoff. You’d have to be going way below the speed limit to catch the attention of the police, but you would not be the first person to be cited for it.
Turning Right on Red
While it’s legal in many states, some do not allow it—not that many people heed the law when they’re in a hurry and there’s no oncoming traffic. You have probably treated it like a Stop sign: coming to a stop, looking both ways, then getting on with your travels. As long as you didn’t do these illegal things in front of a cop car, you were probably fine.
Rolling Through a Stop Sign
Speaking of Stop signs, this is a bad habit of anyone who has cruised through the suburbs trying to get back home after a long day or taken the advice from Waze that sent you going through Stop-sign-filled intersections that slowed you down much more than if you’d just stayed in the stop-and-go traffic of the main streets. It’s against the law but you know you’ve done it.
Driving Through a Red Light in the Middle of the Night
You’re driving down a wide-open street in the dead of night when you get to a red light. You wait, and wait, and wait and it’s still red. After a minute or so, you should probably be ticketed for not just driving through and getting on with your drive.
Doing a U-Turn When It’s Illegal
Like the “Midnight Red,” sometimes you just need to be going the opposite direction from whence you came and there aren’t many options for doing that. Are you really going to just keep driving for another mile hoping a U-turn sign will pop up, or attempt one of those right-right-right horseshoe turns, or are you going to do the easy option of flipping a U-turn when you’re not supposed to?
Rolling Through a Stop Sign on Your Bike
If you are a bike rider than you have absolutely done this before, looking both ways then cruising through the Stop sign to get on your way. Nine times out of 10 you won’t run into any issues, but be extra sure there are no cops around, just in case.
Not Wearing a Seatbelt
You don’t want to make a habit of this, but we have all done it. You hop into your car and know you are just going a few blocks, and forget to buckle your belt. In most cases, this is no problem, but remember: A majority of car crashes occur within five miles of the victim’s home.
Another kind of law-breaking that we’ve probably all done: public intoxication. Laws vary from one state to another about what constitutes being “too drunk” in public and the consequences of doing so (for example, in Indiana, it can mean up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine; in Texas you’ll pay no more than $500), but there’s a good chance we’ve all bent, if not broken the rule.
Drinking in Public
Beyond being fully drunk in public, simply having a drink in your hand is against the law in most of the country. While you may not be the type to brown-bag it while strolling through the neighborhood or even to keep a flask in your pocket, you’ve probably taken your drink from the bar onto the sidewalk on a nice day once or twice.
Making a Meme
Well, making a meme with media that is not in the public domain, that is. Which is most material that you’re likely to see in memes, such as movie and celebrity images. But while using copyrighted images may put you in some potential legal trouble, the “fair use” rule can probably keep you out of it. Beyond copyright, you can also be sued by the subject of the meme—if it’s a really mean meme.
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