27 Duq. L. Rev. 221 (1988-1989)
Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse except for Tax Crimes

handle is hein.journals/duqu27 and id is 231 raw text is: Duquesne Law Review
Volume 27, Winter 1989, Number 2
Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse Except for Tax
Mark D. Yochum*
The reduction of law to slogans or aphorisms or the elevation of
commonplaces to legalities occurs with good sense. Laws are made
to be obeyed but obeisance is dependent upon the awareness and
comprehension by the object of the law. Similarly, laws are expres-
sions of understood beliefs and relationships, memorialized to give
formal effect to the collective notion. Consequently, the law is
loaded with maxims which rhythmically convey principles of gen-
eral application. These maxims, when freed of latinate bounds,
rendered in the vulgate, both describe and shape attitudes toward
the law by the unstudied. Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse is
one of these.'
That ignorance of the law provides no defense is a cornerstone in
the edifice of criminal law generally.2 While lawyers know that
mental states of various character must often be proven for convic-
tion of crime, proof of knowledge of criminality is immaterial.3 The
effect of widespread knowledge of the maxim among the unstud-
ied, however, is terror. The objective of criminal laws is to conform
conduct to their strictures. Knowledge of their provisions is critical
* B.A., 1974, Carnegie Mellon University; J.D., 1977, Georgetown University Law
Center; Associate Professor of Law, Duquesne University School of Law.
1. (Latin Expression) Ignorantia juris quod quisque tenetur scire, meninem excusat.
(Ignorance of the law, which everyone is bound to know, excuses no man.).
2. See Perkins, Ignorance and Mistake in Criminal Law, 88 U. PA. L. REV. 35 (1939).
See MODEL PENAL CODE  2.02(9) (1985).
3. This comment, of course, excludes statutes as the tax provisions have been inter-
preted, which make knowledge of criminality a specific element of the crime. See, e.g.,
United States v. Hopkins, 744 F.2d 716 (10th Cir. 1984).

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