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Before closing, let’s put one trending, but erroneous, sound bite to rest. Heien argued that because the common-law maxim “ignorance of the law is no excuse” applies to private citizens who break the law, it should also be applied to police here. Tweeters are now claiming that today’s ruling means the maxim applies to everyone except the police. That not only ignores the very different contexts (criminal law breaking versus justifications for stopping suspected law-breakers), but it’s wrong also in its premise. In fact, the Court long ago ruled that a reasonable “ignorance of the law” can be a defense to prosecution. In Lambert v. California (1957), the Court vacated a criminal conviction because the law at issue could not be reasonably known to the citizenry. This ruling still finds application today, albeit rarely. It seems that the Court may have (even if not consciously) reinvigorated the Lambert concept today at page 12, where it indicated that “the government cannot impose criminal liability based on a mistaken understanding of the law.” If read broadly, this statement could represent a sea change in the modern understanding of Lambert – a decision that Justice Frankfurter called, in dissent, “a derelict on the waters of the law.” But it seems clear that the Court today meant “on [its own] misunderstanding of the law,” not a private citizen’s.
So now an officer can just "misunderstand" a law and it's okay for them to break it. Nice.