We’ve all heard urban legends and rumours about absurd laws in America, but don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Sites like dumblaws.com — which rarely link to states’ current statutes or may misinterpret them — only perpetuate the myths.
We decided to undertake some legal legwork and identify the strangest statute still on the books in every state.
Many of these laws make sense, such as a ban on guiding sheep onto a train track if you’re trying to hurt the train. But the fact that states have to spell out bans like this might make you scratch your head.
Alabama residents commit unlawful bear exploitation if they purchase, possess, or train a bear for the purpose of bear wrestling. It’s a Class B felony, punishable by a fine, confiscation of the bear, and restitution to a humane society for animals.
Apparently, man versus bear wrestling took hold in the early 1800s — a byproduct of Greco-Roman displays of masculinity.
A person cannot get drunk in a bar and remain on the premises. (Kind of defeats the purpose of a bar, doesn’t it?) The statute states an intoxicated person may not “knowingly” enter or camp out where alcohol is sold — so maybe if you’re inebriated enough, you can get away with it.
In 2012, police in Alaska reportedly started aggressively enforcing the law, sending plainclothes officers to bars to identify and arrest suspects.
No one can feed garbage to pigs without first obtaining a permit, which requires annual renewal. You can, however, swap out the trough for a waste basket if the swine are raised for your own consumption.
A pinball machine can’t give more than 25 free games to a player who continues to win. Some restaurant-gaming chains — like Chuck E. Cheese — are exempt from certain anti-gambling statutes because they award free games, toys, and novelties that don’t constitute an exchange of “valuable things.”
A frog that dies during a frog-jumping contest can’t be eaten. This health code likely made its way into the books to protect competitors at the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee, an 80-year-old tradition in the gold mining town of Angels Camp. Each year, tourists and experienced jockeys compete to see how far their bullfrogs can leap.
You have to get a permit to modify the weather. Weather modification is not only possible, but it’s actually a lucrative business. In select states, it’s legal to perform activities that produce artificial changes in the composition or behaviour of the atmosphere — such as burning silver iodide, which carries into the clouds to stimulate rain. The permit requirement ensures minimal harm to the land and maximum benefit to the people.
In Connecticut, letting other people copy your academic work isn’t just a no-no in school — it’s also illegal. The general statutes explicitly prohibit selling a term paper, essay, dissertation, etc. at any education facility supervised by the state.
The punishment isn’t specified, but it’s probably more than detention.
It’s a Class B misdemeanour to sell, barter, or offer the fur of a domestic dog or cat. Any products made in whole or in part from the hair, say a coat of 101 Dalmatians, also result in a fine of $US2,500 and a ban on owning a dog or cat for 15 years after conviction.
Owners of commercial establishments where alcohol is sold may be fined up to $US1,000 if they participate in or permit any contest of dwarf-tossing. In 1989, Florida outlawed this Australian bar fad of tossing little people when it caught on in southern parts of the state.
A Florida state legislator tried to repeal the law in 2011 but wasn’t successful.
Those engaging in llama-related activities, such as riding, training, or goofing around at a county fair or performance, are accountable for any and all personal injuries incurred. The “llama professional” is immune from liability for harm or death with few exceptions.
Injured participants have a shot in court if they were just spectating from an authorised area.
Billboards have no place in paradise. They’re outlawed in the state with just 18 exceptions.
The “urban beautification” initiative dates back to 1927, when an all-white circle of Hawaii’s power wives created the Outdoor Circle Club and lobbied for the ban. Today, the group exists as a watchdog on ever-threatening, jumbo-size advertisements.
Cannibalism is strictly prohibited and punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Idaho. But it’s ok to “wilfully ingest the flesh or blood of a human being” in life-or-death situations, if it’s the only apparent means or survival.
The only state to declare cannibalism a no-no, Idaho erected the ban in 1990 as a reaction to spreading fear that eating humans would pop up in ritualized practices.
Urban legend says it’s a crime to possess more than $US600 worth of salamanders. (That’s 75-plus salamanders, according to fair market value.) In reality, it’s illegal to keep any variety of aquatic life in excess of $US600 in Illinois if it was captured or killed in violation of the state’s law.
Liquor stores can’t sell cooled water or soda, but they can sell cooled soda. In fact, they can’t sell milk either. The code specifically lists what types of beverages (and at what temperatures) permit-holding businesses can have in stock.
Anyone trying to pass off margarine (or oleo or oleomargarine) as real butter is guilty of a misdemeanour. The great butter vs. margarine battle rages on though, so we understand Iowa’s desire for transparency.
Liquor may not be sold by the glass in 26 counties. In Kansas — a state that outlawed alcohol sales until 1948, a full 15 years after Congress repealed Prohibition — individual counties may, by resolution or petition, prohibit the sale of booze in public places where 30% or less of their gross comes from the sale of food. There’s no place like home to get tipsy.
Every legislator, public officer, and lawyer must take an oath stating that they have not fought a duel with deadly weapons. When it entered the Kentucky Constitution in 1849, the law was meant to deter men who might aspire to public office from participating in the once-rampant Southern tradition.
Some evidence suggests, however, that trial-by-combat might technically be legal on a federal level even today.
Jambalaya prepared in “the traditional manner” is not subject to typical sanitation regulations. According to the public health and safety codes, this Creole stir-fry, made with rice, meat, and vegetables, may be prepared for public consumption in the open, using iron pots and wood fires.
An early version of the chance game of Bingo, called Beano, is legally regulated in this New England state. The legal rules dictate that a person conducting or assisting in the conduct of the game may assist players by playing their cards while they take a restroom break.
This allowance does not apply in high-stakes Beano, which apparently, is also a thing.
A person who sells non-latex condoms by means of a vending machine is guilty of a misdemeanour and subject to a fine up to $US1,000.
Whether you’re in Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park, you’ll probably never hear just half of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Singing or playing the national anthem other than as a whole and separate composition is punishable by a fine no more than $US100.
You’ll pay the same price for dancing (at all) to it, too.
A statute on the books since 1931 makes adultery a felony — punishable by a maximum of four years in prison and a $US5,000 fine.
In 2012, Portage police Sgt. James Myers was fired for on-the-job misconduct, including allegedly cheating on his wife and furthering a relationship with a local waitress using a city-issued mobile phone and email account while on the clock. He was neither fined nor imprisoned, suggesting Michigan doesn’t take the law too seriously.
In Minnesota, any game in which participants attempt to capture a greased or oiled pig is illegal. The same laws also prohibits turkey scrambles. Let’s assume legislators were more concerned with animal cruelty than human stupidity.
Using profanity in front of two or more persons in a public place might land you in the county jail for up to 30 days. Or you could pay a hefty fine to the state swear jar, no more than $US100.
While this law appears to be a direct assault on the First Amendment, it’s thought to have been conceived in order to protect the public.
If any bull or ram over the age of 1 year old runs rampant for more than three days, any person may castrate the animal without assuming liability for damage. Three town residents must attest in writing that the animal is loose, and its owner must fail to reclaim or confine the beast after notice is given.
Guiding sheep onto a railroad track with intent to injure the train, not the sheep, can stick you with a whopping fine up to $US50,000 and a stay at the state prison not exceeding five years. The locomotive corporation or owners of the railroad must be harmed, in addition to Dolly and friends.
No person who is afflicted with a venereal disease can marry. While it’s nearly impossible to enforce, this health code could prevent marital bliss for more than 8,000 Nebraskans who reported cases of chlamydia or gonorrhea to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012.
In the only state where prostitution won’t get you arrested in most counties, using x-rays to determine shoe size could. That may sound strange, but a device with that exact purpose actually exists: a shoe-fitting fluoroscope also known as a pedoscope or foot-o-scope.
With the knowledge that exposure to radiation harms people in awful ways, this practice went by the wayside. But at one point, the state had to spell it out. Anyone who didn’t get the message is guilty of a misdemeanour.
As of 1973, it’s illegal to carry away or collect seaweed at night. Breaking most of the general provisions about fish and game will land you a “violation” — with an unspecified punishment.
Seaweed is routinely used in fertiliser and animal feed. It’s also considered a good source of alginate, which gives liquid solutions a thicker texture (think Jell-O). Just last year, Maine and its fisherman grappled over a similar set of regulations.
In the Garden State, anyone wearing a “body vest” a.k.a. bullet-proof armour while committing murder, manslaughter, robbery, sexual assault, etc. is guilty of another crime. And attempting to flee while wearing this unlawful piece of clothing, after committing the initial act, bumps up the crime from third-degree to second- or first-degree.
As stated in the New Mexico Constitution, “idiots” can’t vote in state elections. Traditionally, the word “idiot” has referred to someone (rather politically incorrectly) mentally disabled or with an IQ below 30. But read the comments section on any website, and you’ll see the term is more loosely applied now. The vagueness in these statutes could cause problems someday.
Currently, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio uphold the same idea in their constitutions. Even if you have a mental disability though, if you understand what voting means, federal law protects your right to cast a ballot, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
It’s unlawful for three or more people wearing masks to gather in public for a demonstration or a march. Originally enacted in 1845, it entered the books when local tenant farmers disguised themselves as Native American and attacked and killed their landlords.
The law includes exceptions for masquerade parties and similar events.
For certain organisations in North Carolina, bingo games can last only up to five hours. The state’s administrative code even contains a few more explicit restrictions on the game: only one in a 48-hour period and no more than a $US500 prize.
Our best guess as to the motivation behind this law? Retirement homes needed to crack down on geriatric bingo sharks.
All members of North Dakota’s Dry Pea and Lentil Council must be citizens. The organisation was created in 1997 to to promote the dry pea, lentil, chickpeas, lupins, and fava bean industries, and the legislature clearly didn’t want someone with just a green card wielding all that power.
A national version of the Dry Pea and Lentil Council also exists. But North Dakota obviously decided it needed a more state-focused group.
Every operator of an underground coal mine must provide “adequate supply” of toilet paper with each toilet. This law clearly makes sense, but the fact that it exists at all raises some questions about basic human decency.
According to the most recently updated version of the Oklahoma statutes in 2013, McCarthyism is alive and well. We quote:
“It is here now found and declared to be a fact that there exists an International Communist conspiracy which is committed to the overthrow of the government of the United States and of the several states, including that of the State of Oklahoma, by force or violence …”
In Oregon, leaving a container of urine or faecal matter on the side of the road is a Class A misdemeanour. And you can’t throw it from the vehicle either. Again, we understand the logic. But who tried to leave urine or excrement on the side of the road in the first place?
Human trafficking in general violates too many international laws to count. But Pennsylvania felt the need to specify that you can’t barter a baby. But if you do find yourself swapping goods or services for your precious bundle, it’s only a misdemeanour, which is usually punished less harshly than felonies.
Rhode Islanders who bite off someone else’s limb will face no more than 20 years in prison (but no less than one) — but only if they maimed the victim on purpose. Don’t worry if you fall and your teeth accidentally dismember somebody. You will have a legitimate defence.
A male over the age of the 16 can’t seduce a woman by falsely promising to marry her. If found guilty, he’ll be charged with a misdemeanour, fined at the court’s discretion, and/or imprisoned for no longer than one year — with a decent number of exceptions.
For example, if the woman was already married or considered “lewd” or “unchaste” (which the law doesn’t define), the court can’t convict the male of the misdemeanour. The offender will also walk if no one can corroborate the woman’s testimony. And no one law exists with the gender roles reversed.
Agricultural producers may set off fireworks and other explosives to safeguard their sunflower crops. Crows and other birds can wreak havoc on a blossoming field, and pyrotechnics are farmers’ first defence — so long as they’re not used within 600 feet of an occupied home, church, or schoolhouse.
In Tennessee, you can’t hunt, trap, or harm an albino deer intentionally. If you do, the fish and wildlife commission will hand you with a Class C misdemeanour (punishable by fine only.)
“White deer,” as people often call these mammalian anomalies, are extremely rare. Only about one in every 30,000 deer is born albino. Some even consider the animal the modern unicorn and believe it has magical powers.
In Texas, people wishing to run for office must acknowledge the “Supreme Being.” If not, they could be subjected to religious tests. In other words: no atheists allowed.
In Utah, no one may hurl a missile at a bus or bus terminal — except “elected or appointed peace officers” or “commercial security personnel.” Any one outside those positions is guilty of a third-degree felony.
The Vermont legislature created a law that prohibits outlawing clotheslines — proof that governments don’t always abuse their powers. The same statute also states that no law can ban solar collectors, listing both items as “energy devices based on renewable resources.”
Doors to nearly all public buildings must open outwardly. Anyone who violates this will face a misdemeanour charge. The statute does explain why though: to avoid congestion during emergencies, like fires.
Don’t attempt to substitute a hunting dog for a ferret in West Virginia. Anyone who hunts, catches, takes, kills, injures, or pursues a wild animal or bird with a ferret will face a fine of no less than $US100 (but no more than $US500) and no less than 10 (but no more than 100) days in jail.
Not to stereotype, but in Wisconsin (also known as America’s Dairyland), many different kind of state-certified cheeses (Muenster, cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack) must be “highly pleasing.”
In Wyoming, you can’t “cut, sever, detach, or mutilate” more than one-half of a sheep’s ear. Violations are felony offenses, punishable by up to five years in prison.
But less than one-half? Totally fine. And if the sale document or title approves said mutilation, go ahead then.
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