Old Laws Never Die, They Just Fade Away

About this time of year, you read a lot about the new laws going into effect. After all, you have to understand the new laws before you can be reasonably expected to obey them. For instance, you must have heard by now about the big fines you'll face if your car can't make it out of an intersection in time. (Remember, ignornace is not a legal excuse.)

But what about all the old laws that have been on the books for years? We hardly ever get a chance to read about them. How else would you ever know that it is illegal to sign a letter to a newspaper with a fake name? Well, here's your chance. Here are a few older laws, some going back to the 1870s, that I just happened upon while browsing through the California penal code.

On the Run

You can be fined up to $1,000 if you refuse to join a posse when lawfully required to do so by a uniformed peace officer. (Penal Code Section 150, originally passed in 1872).

You'll go to jail if you are convicted of fighting "any duel, from which death ensues within a year and a day." (I wonder if it means that if your opponent dies a year and two days later, you're home free.) For the unfamiliar, the penal code even defines a duel for us: "any combat with deadly weapons, fought between two or more persons, by previous agreement or upon a previous quarrel." They called that a rumble in the 1950s.

The law is so specific on dueling that it even outlaws leaving California with the intent to duel somewhere else.

It is illegal to throw a stone "or other hard substance" at a "railway street car."

The punishment is state prison if you compel a woman "by force, menace, or duress" to marry you. It's the same fate if you force her to marry a friend.

Bigamy has been a crime since 1872, and it still is.

Relatively New Law

It is a misdemeanor to give to children any candy, cake, cookies or chewing gum that contains more alcohol than one-half of 1%. That one is a relatively new law, having been on the books only since 1977.

Pimping and so-called "three-card monte" have both been banned since before the turn of the century. As has the alteration of any mark on a log or lumber with the intent to confuse the owner.

It is now and has been since 1945 a misdemeanor to be a tout. What is a tout, you ask? The fellows at the local race track don't need an explanation. But the legal definition is anyone who persuades another to bet on a horse and demands compensation for the tip.

Finally, a warning to those who have a party line on their telephone. It is still a crime to refuse to relinquish the line if it is needed for an emergency.

Oh, what you can learn deep in the bowels of a law library.

Attorney Jeffrey S. Klein, The Times' senior staff counsel, cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about the law. Do not telephone. Write to Jeffrey S. Klein, Legal View, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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