19 Things You Didn’t Realize Are Against The Law

Most laws are common sense, like those involving theft, property damage, or violence, but there are many lesser-known regulations that most people aren’t even aware of. This article reveals 19 illegal acts that may inadvertently turn you into a common criminal. Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it!


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Depending on the state and seriousness of the violation, this seemingly minor offense can result in a fine of up to $250, particularly in busy cities like New York. Jaywalking is defined as crossing the street outside of a designated crosswalk or against a traffic signal, and the law against it is designed to protect pedestrians while ensuring a constant flow of traffic. 

Not Using a Turn Signal

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Turn signals are essential for safe driving because they communicate to other road users what you intend to do, from taking turns and exiting a highway to changing lanes and pulling over. The Charlotte Observer states that failing to signal is a ‘ticketed’ offense in North Carolina and most other American states, resulting in a fine of between $25 and $100.

Public Intoxication

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Being drunk in public is not permitted, even if you are over 21 and not operating a vehicle. The legal definition of ‘public intoxication’ varies from state to state, but it generally refers to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point where you pose a danger or nuisance to yourself or others. Repeat offenses result in higher fines and even jail terms of up to one year! 

Sharing Passwords

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Sharing your login details for certain accounts might seem like a harmless way to help a friend, yet it can be illegal. Although often difficult to prove, you’re guilty of copyright infringement if you share a password to streaming services or other subscription-based platforms because you’re violating the ‘terms of service’ agreement. While prosecutions are rare, it’s technically a criminal act!

Driving with Open Alcohol

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In all states except Alaska and Mississippi, it’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, even if the driver is sober and not the one drinking. Open container laws exist to deter drunk driving by making it easier for law enforcement to identify potential offenders and more difficult for drivers to deny the charges. Fines for violating these laws vary from $25 to $100.

Mattress Tag Removal

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Though rarely enforced, a federal law in the U.S. prohibits removing the label from a new mattress or pillow before it is sold to the end consumer. FindLaw says that if you sell such products, you can be fined up to $1,000 for removing a mattress tag before delivering it to a customer. The law aims to prevent deadly fires associated with flammable mattress fillings.

Leaving Your Car Running

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This act seems harmless but is illegal in many jurisdictions. Regulations attempt to reduce car theft, increase road safety, and help combat unnecessary air pollution. While it’s okay to leave the engine running while you are with your car, you must turn it off when the vehicle is unattended or risk a fine of $25 to $100 or even having your car towed and impounded!

Sitting on Sidewalks

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In some cities, sitting or lying down on sidewalks is illegal, especially in high-traffic areas. These laws aim to help maintain pedestrian flow on crowded streets and reduce panhandling and aggressive behavior. In Los Angeles, for example, sitting or lying on sidewalks within 1,000 feet of a school or park is illegal. Offenders are often simply asked to move on but can be fined.  

Letting Your Dog Off Leash

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Almost all urban areas have leash laws that require dogs to be physically restrained in public places like sidewalks or parks, except for designated dog exercise areas. The laws aren’t just to prevent unhygienic fouling and protect the public but also to ensure the dogs’ safety; hazards such as busy roads and construction sites can be dangerous for free-roaming dogs.

Feeding Pigeons

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It seems like a sweet and harmless act, yet feeding pigeons is a finable offense in some U.S. cities. San Francisco Public Works cites several reasons for this regulation: unnaturally high pigeon populations are dirty, diseased, and overly dependent on humans, while the birds can also be a nuisance in high numbers. Other control measures, like pigeon spikes, are also in use.

Selling Fireworks

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Do you have leftover fireworks after the Fourth of July? You might consider selling them, but that is illegal in most states without a permit. Fireworks are heavily regulated in the United States and, as explosives, are classified as dangerous goods. The law aims to protect the general public from serious injuries and fire hazards caused by fireworks that haven’t been properly stored or handled.

Exotic Pets

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A unique pet may seem alluring, but some exotic animals are illegal to trade or not prohibited in certain areas. These restrictions can be related to protecting endangered species but also concern public safety. Large, aggressive, or poisonous critters can escape and pose a threat or spread disease, whereas even insects can become invasive species and harm local ecosystems.   

Making Loud Noises

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Noise ordinances are common in almost all American cities and towns, especially during hours when most people are sleeping (approximately between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.). Regulations restrict the amount of noise you can make in decibels to protect other people from excessive noise disturbances. Fines start low (under $100) but steeply increase for repeat offenses.

Burning Leaves or Trash

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Open burning is illegal in most areas because the smoke and fumes reduce the quality of the air. Burning leaves, trash, or yard waste can also release harmful pollutants into the air, particularly if non-organic components are mixed into the waste. According to the American Lung Association, air pollution contributes to respiratory problems, heart disease, and cancer. 

Fishing Without a License

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You’ll need a fishing license if you plan on fishing in public lakes, rivers, or even some ponds. Licenses are designed to regulate fish populations and also help fund conservation efforts. A valid fishing license ensures fish populations aren’t overfished and remain stable for future generations to enjoy. Fishing without a license is a misdemeanor, often punished with a fine.

Failing to Report Stolen Credit Cards

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You can be charged with fraud if you don’t report a credit card lost or stolen within a certain timeframe, although this offense is difficult to prosecute. The Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974 protects consumers from unauthorized charges on their credit cards, but it comes with the condition that lost cards be reported to reduce the risk to financial institutions.

Using Too Much Water

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During periods of drought, some areas implement water restrictions to reduce the amount of water used for non-essential things, like filling swimming pools, washing cars, or watering lawns. The average American family uses about 300 gallons of water per day, so it’s important to observe water restrictions to ensure there’s enough for things like drinking and bathing.

Having a Yard Sale

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Yard sales are generally permitted and are a great way to declutter while earning some extra cash. However, you should follow local regulations regarding how many sales you can have every year and the number of advertising signs you are allowed to display publicly. Such regulations vary hugely depending on your location, and repeat offenders can receive fines.

Leaving Your Dog in a Hot Car

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Most owners know not to do this but don’t realize it’s an illegal act. The American Kennel Club reports that, in many states, it’s a criminal offense under animal abuse laws to leave a dog in a hot car (regardless of leaving the windows down or the AC on). Even on a mild day, cars in the sun can heat up quickly, causing heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and eventually death for any dog trapped inside.

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