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16 Strange but True Legal Facts, the Odd Things That Have Occurred in Legal Circles

13 min read

If there is one thing that can be peculiar, it’s the law. From weird laws to utterly humorous events, the law has something for everyone. But sometimes things can be so wacky that they make us all stand up and pay attention. So with no more ado, here are 16 strange but true legal facts, or things that have actually happened in the legal world.

1 The US Government Poisoned Alcohol During Prohibition

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Leading our list of strange but true legal facts is the case of poisoning alcohol during Prohibition.

Prohibition was one of the most unpopular laws that has ever been introduced into the United States. The law made it illegal to sell, manufacture, posses, transport, import or export any alcohol, unless it was prescribed. The aim of prohibition was to reduce social problems and reduce the risk of exposure to alcohol related problems. While the intentions sounded noble,  in reality is was disgracefully unpopular, and alcohol was still widely available.

Despite the almost blanket ban on alcoholic products in the US, it was still widely available through speakeasies, in international waters only three miles offshore, and by those who risked home brewing. Those who did try the home brew method faced the consequence of alcoholic poisoning if they didn’t distill their spirits correctly. And this did happen quite frequently. but even though unintentional alcoholic poisoning did happen, it pales into insignificance compared to what the government did to try and curb the sale and consumption of alcohol during this period.

During prohibition in the US, a lot of the alcohol the bootleggers got was from industrial sources, such as paint thinners and medical supplies. To combat this use, the US government ordered the manufacturers to lace the products with a deadly poison. It is thought that by the end of prohibition 10,000 people had died from the poisoning at the hands of their own government.

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2 J. Edgar Hoover Had John Steinbeck Audited Every Year By The IRS

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Former Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover hated American author John Steinbeck so much he had him audited by the IRS every year. The reason Hoover hated Steinbeck so much is because he thought he was a communist. In reality Steinbeck was quite a proud patriot who tried to give those who were powerless a voice. Because of his personal views he became a political target of FBI Director Hoover. Since Steinbeck had done nothing criminally wrong, Hoover asked the IRS to audit him every year of his life, just to be politically annoying. I’m sorry, but that’s just being an asshole.

Although Steinbeck was not a communist, he had some very close ties to the movement. He had connections with the League of American Writers and the United States Communist Party’s John Reed Club for writers. He also had close contact with many left leaning authors, journalists and unions.

John Steinbeck is best known for his works Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, and also for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

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3 Some American Cities Had Ugly Laws

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Today we live in a fairly relaxed society where a persons appearance is not offensive or a thing of amusement. But in the past things were very different. It is common knowledge that there were traveling freak shows, where the “performers” had physical deformities or abnormalities. In some US cities there were even laws preventing unsightly people from being seen in public!

Known as ugly laws, or unsightly beggar ordinances, the local laws made it illegal for “unsightly or disgusting” people to appear in public. Punishment for breaking the laws ranged from fines between $1 to $50 to imprisonment. The first of these ugly laws was introduced in San Francisco, California in 1867, and the last was repealed in Chicago in 1974.

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4 The Length Of A Copyright Has Increased From 14 Years To Almost Forever

Today, when an invention or piece of work is created, the most common length of time that it will remain copyrighted material is the length of the creators life plus 70 years. After that time it will enter the public domain. But it has not always been that way though.

In the US in 1790, the term of a copyright was only 14 years. After 14 years the creator of the copyrighted material had the option to extend the term for an additional 14 years if they were still alive, or it would be in the public domain. But gradually over time it has increased to the current standard of life plus 70 years. In some cases though, such as with Peter Pan, it will be increased almost indefinitely.

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5 Indiana Tried To Change The Value Of Pi

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Pi, the mathematical constant of measuring the circumference of a circle had a run in with the law in Indiana in 1897.  Bill #246, commonly known as the Pi Bill, was an attempt by the Indiana legislature to square the circle. Although no clear definitions for the value of pi were given in the proposed law, it is commonly believed the value may have been rounded up to 3.2, or down to 3.

The idea to square the circle was first proposed in 1894 by amateur mathematician Edwin J. Goodwin who introduced it to Indiana Representative Taylor I. Record. Record introduced it to the House with the long title “A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897″.

The Bill nearly became law too. It was stopped only after mathematics professors who were present in the legislature intervened to talk sense to the law makers.

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6 In Arizona You Can Carry A Loaded Firearm, But Not Nunchucks

In the United States the personal right to weapons is protected by the 2nd amendment to the constitution as part of the Bill of Rights. Individual states can make laws surrounding weapons, such as licencing, permits and magazine capacity for firearms, however it must not infringe upon the  individuals right to bear arms. On the odd occasion though you will find odd weapons laws that make little sense, like in Arizona where it is legal to carry a deadly weapon, but illegal to possess nunchucks.

In Arizona it is perfectly legal for an adult, provided they are not a prohibited person, to carry a loaded firearm in public. Generally it must be in some sort of holster or scabbard, but the law does not specifically say so. It must not constitute reckless display. Adults over the age of 21 are even permitted to carry the firearms concealed. There are some restrictions to the types of firearms that a person can carry.

Now compare that example to this one. We are still in the state of Arizona. While it is perfectly legal for a person to carry a concealed firearm, nunchucks are a prohibited weapon. Perhaps someone should remind the state legislators that nunchucks are technically arms. Perhaps they saw the above video of Bruce Lee in action, but then again there is no one quite like Bruce Lee.

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7 In England The Speaker Of The house Is Not Allowed to Speak

In England The Speaker Of The house Is Not Allowed to Speak

Ok, so this is really a technicality. In reality the speaker of the House can and does speak, and quite often. Where the truth of this fact comes in is that in England the speaker of the Holuse is not allowed to speak along party lines, or participate in any debate. Lets explain.

The Speaker of the House in England is the presiding judge over proceedings in the House of Commons, the Parliament. The Speakers role is to maintain order and make sure the debate flows. The Speaker will usually come from one of the political parties, and most often from the government benches, but when taking the chair of Speaker must renounce all affiliation and allegiance with that party.

The reason the Speaker is not allowed to speak is that they can not contribute to debate or vote, unless in a break tie. They will speak, only to maintain order or to chastise a member of parliament.

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8 Tic Tacs Contain No Sugar In The USA

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In the US Tic Tacs contain no sugar. Well that’s what the label on a box of Tic Tacs will have you believe. The reason they have no sugar is because they can sneak through a loop hole in the law.

A single Tic Tac is made mainly of sugar and weight just under 0.5 grams. The regulations in the US state that if a product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serve it is acceptable to express the amount of sugar as being zero. Each single Tic Tac is one serving, so as far as the regulations are concerned the sugary sweet contains no sugar.

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9 Mud Splashing Road Rule In Australia

In Australia the states make and police the rules for driving. They take the majority of the rules from the National Australian Road Rules, but they can make variations and remove or add additional rules. This can sometimes make it difficult for inter-state drivers where a rule can exist in one state but not another. But in the state of New South Wales they have a bizarre rule regarding splashing mud on people.

The law as it stands at first glance makes some sense. It states that it is an offence to splash mud on a bus passenger, or a person waiting for a bus, or entering or exiting a bus. If the driver of a car is caught by police splashing mud on a bus passenger they can be fined. But it is only bus passengers! Nowhere in the road rules does it make mention of any other road user or pedestrian, whether they are waiting for a taxi or other form of transport. If any other pedestrian is splashed by mud the driver will not be fined, and if they were fined a court would dismiss it as it is not against the law. How weird is that?

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10 There Are More Bathrooms Than Needed In The Pentagon

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When the Pentagon was built in the 1940’s in Virginia it was built with extra bathrooms. Nearly twice as many as was actually needed.  The reason behind the additional bathrooms is that it was built during a dark chapter in US history. During it’s construction racial segregation was common practice, and still the law of the land in Virginia.

Although the Pentagon was a federal building, it was built in Virginia which had racial laws. The President has outlawed racial segregation in the federal government in 1941, but the laws in Virginia still required for the races to be separated. To get around this this difficult situation of having to comply with one federal law that banned racial segregation and the law of Virginia that required segregation the bathrooms were not labeled “whites only” and “coloreds only”, they were only referred to as for “different classes of people.”

When President Roosevelt visited the Pentagon in May 1942 he questioned the large number of washrooms. He was told it was to comply with State laws. It is believed the bathrooms were not marked “whites and coloreds” at the Presidents request.

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11 A Spanish Town Returns Dog Droppings to Owners Who Don’t Clean Up After their Dogs

It is inconvenient, a hassle, and just plain disgusting. Nearly everyone has, at some point, trodden in dog poo. But one town is fighting back.

A town in Spain has hit upon a novel and new way to try and stop dog owners leaving their dogs droppings on the ground. They have decided to collect the faeces, analyse them, and once they have figured out the responsible dog, return the dogs droppings to the owner by mail.

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12 In 19th Century England, Police Could Strip Search Any Woman Without A Warrant

strange but true legal facts

In a time before antibiotics sexually transmitted infections were a much bigger problem than they are today. What many consider as a mild ailment that can be treated simply by taking a few pills were once debilitating, and sometimes fatal diseases. People knew how they were transmitted, but the lack of advances in medical science severely crippled their attempts to stifle the spread of STI’s. So in an effort to bring a =n outbreak to a halt, the British government did something that would be outrageous today.

By the 1860’s the British government had finally realized that many of the armed services men were suffering from venereal diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis. To combat this they introduced a law that allowed police to search the private parts of only women without a warrant. It didn’t matter who or how old they were or what they were doing. All women were potential targets. All the police needed was any person to say they suspect something and the woman could be dragged off to a police station and inspected by a male police officer. Clearly this was wrong on so many levels, and discriminatory in more ways than one.

Not only were women the only target of this disgusting law, but it was also class biased. The only women who were searched were the poor and working class.

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13 US Income Tax Was Introduced To Fund The Civil War

US Income Tax Was Introduced To Fund The Civil War

 

Who likes paying their taxes? A sound of silence falls upon the world. No one likes paying their taxes, but it’s an unfortunate part of life, as certain as death. As far as I’m concerned they don’t spend the money wisely enough for me to be paying the government ny more than I have to. However, as far as income tax is concerned, it wasn’t always a part of the US landscape. Income tax was only temporarily introduced to fund the Civil War.

Prior to the US Civil war there was no income tax in the United States. It was introduced as part of Revenue Act of 1861 to help the Union fund the war effort. The tax rate was initially set at 3% for incomes over $800 per year. It was repealed the following year and replaced with a new income tax. Three percent, those lucky bastards.

1894 saw the first peace time income tax introduced, but it was ruled to be unconstitutional the following year. But undeterred in their pursuit of more money, the government and IRS continued to seek ways to get more cash from its citizens. In 1913 they finally succeeded when the 16 Amendment made the tax a permanent fixture.

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14 The Vatican City Has No Laws Against Drug Possession Or Sale

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The city state of Vatican City has no laws prohibiting the sale or possession of drugs. This oversight was first noticed in 2007 when an employee of the Vatican City governors office was caught with 87 grams of cocaine. The man was sentenced to serve 6 months in prison as there is a treaty between Italy and the Vatican City that allows the Vatican to impose a prison term up to 6 months in some ambiguous circumstances. The man was handed the maximum sentence.

While the Vatican has a prison system, the jails are rarely used.

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15 Marijuana Was Once Legal Everywhere

Marijuana Was Once Legal

Marijuana (pot) is illegal in many US states and most countries around the world, but there was a time when marijuana was legal. In the 1700’s and 1800’s it was widely grown and used around the world by all classes of people. I can imagine a lot of people from the era tripping like in the gif above.

In 1876 the Sultan of Turkey gave the United Stated a gift of marijuana. By the 1880’s there were Turkish smoking parlors opening all over the north east of the US.

Two of the United States most revered presidents also grew marijuana. President George Washington grew it as his main crop at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson grew it as his secondary crop at Monticello.

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16 Sears Once Sold Cocaine

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As they say, ignorance is bliss. That’s what makes this fact just so entertaining today. Back in the late 19th century Sears sold cocaine in it’s catalog. That’s cocaine, as in the drug coke, and no one at all was charged or even investigated. And we did say Sears, not Walmart. But how did anyone get away with this? Surely someone made one hell of a mistake and should have lost their job at least.

Back in the 19th century not much was known about narcotics like cocaine. Apart from the feel good high, not much else was known about it, it’s side effects, addiction and general debilitating and life changing effects it had on a person. People actually thought that it was a safe drug and completely harmless.

During the 1890’s you could actually buy cocaine and a syringe from the Sears catalog, then known as Sears & Roebeck, for only $1.50. So not only did they distribute a narcotic for profit, they also sold he tools needed to inject the dangerous drug directly into the system.

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As a bonus fact that I’m not yet 100 percent convinced is real, simply due to a lack of any hard evidence. According to many, in Kentucky it is illegal to carry ice cream in your back pocket.

The law prohibiting people from carrying ice cream in their back pocket originated during the days before auto mobiles. Just like today, theft of transport was a real and persistent problem, the only difference was the item being stolen was a living animal. Apparently what the crooks would do is place ice cream in their back pocket and try and lead the horse away with a sweet treat. They could honestly say that they didn’t steal the horse, it just followed them. According to many sources, the law was introduced in an attempt to foil those who sought to entice the horses away from their owners.

Now as I said, there is no hard evidence that this was ever a real law, but there are a few reasons why it could be true.

In recent years a lot of old repealed laws were purposely destroyed because they were no longer needed. This law could have been among them. It’s also possible that it wasn’t a statewide law, but one that was introduced by a county following some isolated incident. If we ever find out for sure we will certainly update this list.

BONUS FACT

Talk about competition. In 2005 Ronald MacDonald robbed a Wendy’s store in Manchester, England.

Yes, that is correct, but it wasn’t the red haired Ronald MacDonald you would be familiar with. The Ronald MacDonald who robbed a Wendy’s store just happened to have the same name. He happened to be a 22 year old man who decided to rob the store at 1:30 in the morning with the help of a friend.

We hope you enjoyed our list of strange but true legal facts. Please hit the share button and keep browsing our site for more weird facts from around the world and across the universe.

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