«Ignorance of the law is no excuse,» says a former lawyer. At common law, the mens rea required for a conviction generally required the government to prove to the defendant that he had acted intentionally to cause injury, that he knew of facts suggesting that the injury was likely to have been caused by his act, or that he had acted regardless of whether the injury would follow. The combination of acts and damages to which these requirements applied was known to the community to be prohibited; Under the M`Naghten rule, failure to acknowledge the illegality of one`s actions has become the norm of insanity. However, the Roman postponement has only reached so far. Although these different groups of Roman citizens were considered incapable of knowing ius civile (the body of civil law that governed Roman relations), they were supposed to know and obey the us gentium (the system of laws that had been established among all people everywhere). As the legal commentator John Austin generously put it much later, because these people did not fall into the state of «general imbecility,» they could be expected to know ius gentium, which was based on principles of presumptuous natural reason understood by all. But after considering other justifications of the doctrine, this argument of ignorantia legis seems the most plausible. Holmes` objection to this reasoning is based on a false factual predicate. Ignorance of the law may be punished only if it results in a violation of the law; This coincidence, and not mere ignorance, is punished to the same extent as knowingly and intentionally breaking the law. In any event, if ignorance of the law does not excuse because it is guilty, the judge or jury should consider whether the particular ignorance alleged by a defendant is actually guilty. Professor Packer, for example, opposes the court`s refusal to require mens rea; His reasoning could also justify an apology out of ignorance. He found a consensus that punishing behavior without reference to intent is «both ineffective and unfair,» because someone who acts without being «aware of the factors that make [their behavior] criminal» cannot be deterred by criminalizing such behavior, nor can they be held morally guilty. Similarly, it may be argued that punishing a defendant who acted in ignorance of the law is not likely to deter such conduct or remove a socially dangerous person from the public domain; Nor is such a punishment justified – the ignorance of the accused does not characterize his act as an act that rightly calls for punishment.

The legal principle of ignorance juris non excusat (ignorance of the law does not excuse) or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one) derives from Roman law. Essentially, this means that if someone breaks the law, they are still liable, even if they did not know that the law had been broken. Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed the issue of ignorance of the law. Barlow v. United States in 1833 concerned the seizure of 85 barrels of sugar that Joseph Barlow was attempting to export under the false name of refined sugar. Barlow claimed that the sugar was not registered under a false name and that he did not intend to defraud revenue. The court did not believe that Barlow was unaware that the sugar he was trying to export was unrefined, saying the case raised a broader question «whether an error of law will excuse forfeiture in cases of this description. We believe that will not be the case. The totality of common law criminal and civil jurisprudence leads to a different conclusion.

It is a general maxim familiar to all minds that ignorance of the law excuses no one, civil or criminal, and it results from the extreme difficulty of determining the good faith interpretation of the party, and from the extreme danger of permitting such excuses for unlawful acts. to the detriment of the public. The reason is quite simple: if ignorance could excuse any crime, then ignorance could excuse any crime. Instead of imposing on the legal system the obligation to prove the legal knowledge of a defendant – with the incentive of the defendant to go in the opposite direction, towards ignorance of the law – the legal system does not assign itself any obligation in this regard. After that, the defendants realize that they have a huge incentive to know the law and behave accordingly. The contradictions in legal statements regarding vagueness and intent that arise from the struggle to prevent «unjust» convictions, without abandoning the concept that ignorance of the law cannot excuse, do more than bring discord into the theoretical structure of criminal law. Contradictions also diminish the effectiveness of these doctrines in ensuring equity, which is postulated as their objective. However, Hart cautioned that the maxim should only be applied to rules that adequately reflect the attitudes or needs of the community.

It should not be applied to a person who violates a law that punishes conduct that is malum prohibitum (behavior that is wrong only because it is illegal) and not behavior that is malum in se (behavior that is inherently illegal). In criminal law, ignorance, while not absolving a defendant of guilt, may be taken into consideration in sentencing, especially if the law is unclear or if the defendant has sought advice from law enforcement or regulatory authorities. For example, in a Canadian case, an individual was charged with being in possession of gaming machines after being informed by customs officers that it was legal to import such machines into Canada. [4] Although the accused was found guilty, the verdict was an absolute exoneration. In the law, ignorantia juris non excusat (Latin for «ignorance of the law does not excuse»),[1] or ignorantia legis neminem excusat («ignorance of the law excuses no one»),[2] is a legal principle that states that a person who does not know a law cannot escape responsibility for violating that law simply because he does not know its contents. In other words, the law itself may impose on a prosecutor the obligation to prove that a defendant`s law is a specific element of a particular crime before a conviction can count towards its violation.