7 Strange State Laws

By Jada A. Graves, Staff WriterNov. 22, 2010
By Jada A. Graves, Staff WriterNov. 22, 2010, at 12:39 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 Strange State Laws

Sites like dumblaws.com, StrangestLaws.com and idiotlaws.com compile lists of the weirdest legislature from state to state. Those laws range from funny trivia (like no gorillas allowed in the back seat of a car in Massachusetts) to downright idiotic decrees (like a Texas anti-crime law where criminals must give their victims 24-hour notice of an upcoming crime).

Unfortunately, they might not be true.

These sites often base their reports on other unverified websites and user input, and they intend the information presented to be used for entertainment purposes only. Trying to uncover whether the most outrageous of these statutes actually exist will lead you (and/or a law librarian) down a rabbit hole of state legislature mumbo jumbo.

But a few states do have easy-to-trace but hard-to-comprehend laws that are still on the books, and in some cases, still enforced. Here's our listing of some bizarre, and real state laws.

[See a photo recap of 7 Strange State Laws]

In 2006, Alabama issued a law to prevent bear exploitation, or more specifically, to stop bear wrestling. Who knew it was that big of a problem?

Apparently, it is. Sports Illustrated reports that man vs. bear wrestling used to be quite popular in the United States, particularly in the 19th century. Today it's still a "hobby" of some amateur wrestlers, albeit a taboo one: Groups like Green Peace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have challenged that it's cruelty to animals. And Alabama state government has issued legislature in agreement. The law and regulation site Justia.com notes an Alabama Code Section 13A-12-5 that determines unlawful bear exploitation is when a person knowingly "promotes, engages in, or is employed at a bear match," if he or she receives money for bear wrestling and if he or she "sells, purchases, possesses or trains a bear for bear wrestling." Just so there are no loopholes, the law also states that it's unlawful if a person "for purposes of exploitation, subjects a bear to surgical alteration in any form, including, but not limited to, declawing, tooth removal, and severing tendons." Oddly enough, there doesn’t appear to be a law on the books to keep you from surgically altering a bear you don't intend to exploit.

Juneau, the busiest cruise port in Alaska and a portal to some of the state's most popular sites, merges urban bustle and imposing wilderness. In the downtown district especially, you'll find quaint shops flooded with tourists, all set against a snow-capped mountain backdrop. It's no wonder that the town would have a law to keep some of the state's wild side from interacting with civilization.

The full text of Juneau's Municipal Code of Ordinances section 36.25.010 outlines: "No owner of any animal or person having control of any animal shall allow such animal to enter upon any public premises where food or human consumption is sold, processed stored or consumed or to enter into any barber shops or establishments for the practice of hairdressing or beauty culture." In plain language, if you're thinking of bringing Fido with you for a cut and curl, think again. Although this law is rarely enforced, you could still be fined $25 if you break it.

Most states have restrictions on the manufacturing, distribution or selling of drugs, but Arizona takes an even harder line. The Grand Canyon State's statute 13-3453 declares it's unlawful for anyone to "manufacture, distribute or possess with intent to distribute an imitation controlled substance." It's also illegal to make and/or sell fake prescriptions and over-the-counter medication. Statute 13-3461 ensures that placebo drugs are exempt from this rule, assuming you're a medical practitioner or a pharmacist or pharmacy employee "acting in the course of their professional practice, in good faith and in accordance with generally accepted medical standards."

Fashion choices have long been the subject of debate, but in Flint, Michigan, they could land you in jail. In 2008, Flint Chief of Police David Dicks made headlines across the country when he ordered his officers to apprehend persons wearing sagging pants. Other cities like Riviera Beach, Fla., have tried to enforce the same law, only to have it declared "unconstitutional" by state circuit court. The law is still in effect in Flint, however, with the Digital Journal reporting that that low-riders could lead to 93 days to a year's worth of jail time, plus up to $500 in fines. Police can issue a warning if your underwear is slightly exposed, and they can charge you with disorderly conduct for exposing your underwear plus wearing your pants below your buttocks. You run the risk of an indecent exposure charge if your bare buttock is exposed (better known as "plumber's crack"). So in other words, no bending over.

Committing a violent crime in Jersey comes with one interesting legal loophole: Your offense is apparently not as great if you do the deed in plain clothes and not while wearing a bullet-proof vest. According to New Jersey statute 2C:39-13, a person has committed a crime if "he uses or wears a body vest while engaged in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit murder, manslaughter, robbery, sexual assault, burglary, kidnapping, criminal escape or assault." Wearing the vest could push your charged offense from third to second degree.

Are you a Pennsylvania resident that's been considering a new set of wheels for some time now? If it's late at night on a Saturday, you're going to have to consider it for a full day more. Pennsylvania is one of many states to still enforce "Blue Laws," or prohibitions based on certain religious standards, that limit otherwise lawful activity to only five or six days of the week. And while some states have repealed these laws as society has become more secular, Pennsylvania and 13 others still have legislation that limits your car-shopping to only six days of the week.   

The Commonwealth also has regulations on how you can purchase alcohol on Sunday (Only in restaurants and bars, and in some select stores, according to the provisos of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code and Liquor Control Board). Hunting is also restricted: The Pennsylvania Game Commission dictates that foxes, crows and coyotes are the only permissible game on Sundays.

We probably all wish our co-workers would stay home when they're sick; in Washington state it's virtually illegal for them not to. According to statute RCW 70.54.050: "Every person who shall willfully expose himself to another, or any animal affected with any contagious or infectious disease, in any public place or thoroughfare, except upon his or its necessary removal in a manner not dangerous to the public health; and every person so affected who shall expose any other person thereto without his knowledge, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

Public health laws like this are upheld by the courts; particularly if you knowingly infect someone with a disease that's more serious than the common cold. What's strange, though, is how the legalese doesn't safeguard those who simply have the sniffles. You could be guilty of a misdemeanor for not letting your co-workers know that you have a cold; likewise, you could be culpable for willfully "exposing" yourself to a sick person.

Jada A. Graves, Staff Writer

Jada A. Graves is the Careers product manager at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter @jada...  Read more

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