As the saying goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Generally, that statement is true. All persons are presumed to know the law. There are rare occasions, however, when ignorance can be a defense.

In Illinois, ignorance can be a defense where it applies to the element of intent. When charged with a crime, the state must prove you guilty of all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Certain crimes require that you acted knowingly. Ignorance can help disprove that element of the offense.

For example, ignorance can be a defense where you returned home after a fight with your domestic partner without knowing that an order of protection forbidding you from entering the residence was now in effect. Or ignorance can be a defense to retail theft where you did not know that the cashier had placed an object in your bag.

The laws have become more complicated and numerous than in olden days. Therefore, ignorance can be a defense when you are unaware of an administrative regulation that was not reasonably available to you. In rare cases, you may have relied on a statute that is later declared invalid or a court order that was later overruled. And have you ever asked an official whether certain conduct was legal, only to learn later that the official was wrong? Ignorance can be a defense when you are relying on that official’s interpretation of the law.

Even where ignorance is a defense, you may still may not get off scott free. The court can convict you of a lesser offense that did not require special mental intent, and you can still be found guilty of the law as you believed it to be.

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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