We have now arrived to the end of our debate. As I have stated from the very beginning, the issue of of ”It’s only illegal if you get
is a virtual Pandora’s box in that it is not a clear cut subject. As such, opinions can vary widely as to the validity of this
I am of the opinion that there is indeed truth to the notion that of ”It’s only illegal if you get caught.”
I am not, and have not, made a case for the petty thieves and criminals who embrace this notion to justify their own criminal behavior. This is not
about downloading songs freely through peer-to-peer networks, or pirating the latest blockbuster movie from the internet. Those are criminal acts that
cannot be justified with any amount of spin.
What I have set out to do is view this issue from a multitude of angles. Throughout the course of this debate, we have discussed this topic in regards
to philosophy, political, social and religious issues. Ultimately, what we discover is that the issue of of ”It’s only illegal if you get
revolves around individual perspective
and interpretation of the law.
Legality: A Frame of Mind – Overview
As I have stated earlier, it all comes down to a matter of perspective.
The perspective of the authority figure or law enforcement officer who
interprets the law and makes the determination if a crime has occurred.
(Not the perspective of the person being investigated.) Being human,
it’s only natural that perspectives will vary from individual to individual. This in turn leads to some instances as being regarded a crime, and
I had asked my opponent very pointed questions regarding the issues of ambiguity and perspective, and he has conceded the following:
- There are indeed ambiguous areas of gray inherent throughout the judicial system.
- That ambiguity within the judicial system can lead to the open interpretation of the law.
- That open interpretation of the law can result in varied individual perspectives of the law.
- That there are indeed “as many perspectives of the law as there are people.”
Although, he states:
When Im having the very real experience of standing behind bars, it doesnt matter if my "perspective" is that Im innocent.
It should be noted that issues of legality and illegality
are decided by law enforcement or an authority figure. It is not the perspective of
the person behind bars that matters. It is the perspective of the law enforcement officer making the judgment call that does.
It is in this sense that ”It’s only illegal if you get caught”
comes into play.
Let’s take a moment to examine some of the issues I have introduced earlier.
The first example I brought up was that of protests and demonstrations. I provided an extremely realistic scenario in which innocent people are
arrested in the heat of the moment.
To this scenario, my opponent responded:
There are laws in place that protect protesters from police brutality.because lines are occasionally overstepped and things go wrong
and… because innocents sometimes wrongly spend an evening in jail…
This is important to note, because my opponent has inferred that law enforcement officers in these cases can sometimes make a wrong judgment
and proceed to arrest an innocent person. Law enforcement does not go around arresting people they deem
to be acting legally.
In my second example, I put forth the scenario that the Patriot Act allows for law enforcement to search personal communications rendering an
individual’s right to privacy moot. In other words, a person can be arrested for expressing their right to free speech at the government’s (or law
My opponent’s response:
…you are correct that there are gray areas which are under heated public debate and scrutiny…
that allow for open interpretation of the law that can vary from one authority figure to the next. Which proves my point, there are
indeed instances of, it’s only illegal if you get caught,
as not everyone who converses in private is arrested.
In my third example, I put forth the scenario of political prisoners incarcerated for their personal thoughts and ideology. These men are not arrested
for any action they have taken, simply for the thoughts existing in their heads.
My opponent completely side-stepped the Socratic question posed to him in this instance, and did not give a direct answer.
As I have stated, there are people who share many of the same views as these political prisoners who are not incarcerated. It comes down to the
judgment of the authority figure deciding whether a violation has occurred. Once again, in these instances, it’s only illegal if you get
Under social issues, I brought forth the case of two adult men engaging in consensual sex within the privacy of their own home. They were arrested by
a law enforcement officer who responded to a false report of a disturbance at the residence, entered the home, came upon the men and arrested them on
charges of sodomy.
They were not arrested for illicit drug use, or domestic violence, or any other clear cut crime. They were arrested for nothing more than embracing
their right to autonomy over their personal being in the privacy of their home. Chances are likely that if the law enforcement officer had come upon a
heterosexual couple engaging in sexual acts in the privacy of their own home, as opposed to a homosexual couple, charges would not have been filed.
My opponent’s response:
My advice would be to move to California or not get caught.
In short, it came down to a judgment call of one particular individual to determine whether or not a crime had been committed.
When I introduced the cases of Good Samaritans feeding the homeless or aiding accident victims, and facing arrests for their actions, my opponent
deemed these cases:
...the most ambivalent and heart-wrenching of gray areas such as the case of the Las Vegas Samaritans.
Gray, because the laws regarding these incidents are not black and white, and are left to the judgment call of law enforcement. Authority figures who
deem some instances as legal, and others as not. In others words, different officers can have different perspectives of the same
instance and act accordingly.
Under the Separation of Church and State
, I mentioned several examples of a Christian movement intent on introducing religion into the public
education system. The case I cited was a school teacher who taught Creationism to his science classes for several years, despite objections from his
school colleagues and administrators. He was only stopped after a lawsuit was brought against him and the school district because he burned a cross
sign on the arms of several students.
My opponent’s response:
Burning a cross into a students arm was already illegal before the teacher got caught.
Interesting he should note the obvious child abuse, but completely ignore
the issue of Separation of Church and State.
The teacher’s actions regarding the teaching of Creationism prior to this incident was widely known, yet it was clearly tolerated by the local
public school system and law enforcement despite objections. This is a direct result of the ambiguity present in our judicial system regarding the
separation of Church and State. It was the gray area of the law that allowed this teacher to get away with forcing his religious views upon students
without their parents direct consent. In short, law enforcement turned a blind eye on this teacher’s behavior regarding the separation of Church and
State until the allegations of abuse arose.
In my final example, I put forth the example of faith healing in lieu of proper medical treatment. In this case, parents exercised their right to
religious expression and extended that right regarding the medical treatment of their minor child. The parents were well within their legal rights to
pursue faith healing and prayer regarding their child’s ill health. It wasn’t until the child died that their actions were then deemed illegal.
My opponent’s response is that laws vary from state to state.
Now, to address my opponent’s questions:
Socratic Question 1: If it is indeed true as you claim, what consequences do you think we should take out of it? (In which way do you believe our
legal system need be changed to accomodate to this "truth"?)
I don’t think the legal system can be changed in this regards. Law enforcement officials and authority figures are mere mortals, and as such are
open to such human failings as error, bias and in some cases, prejudice. It comes down to a matter of humans making judgment calls, which can widely
vary depending on one’s perspective of a matter.
Socratic Question 2: Can you show me the legally binding paragraph that states an act to be lawful if it remains undiscovered?
Of course, not. But then again, that is dependent on the “act” and the clarity of the law that may or may not (after all, this is rather vague)
pertain to it. Especially, if it involves those infamous shades of gray my opponent has freely alluded to so many times.
Socratic Question 3: Can you name one single ocassion in your life in which you acted illegally because you were in a moral dilemma?
I have been fortunate, thus far, not to have been placed in such a situation. However, that doesn't mean those situations do not exist.
The truth remains, that anytime ambiguity allows for open interpretation of the law by law enforcement or authority figures, there will always be
cases of ”It’s only illegal if you get caught.”