Should You Be Jailed for Committing a Crime You Didn’t Know Was a Crime?

Ohio recently enacted a new law to reform the way criminal statutes are written and interpreted in that state. That measure is a step in the right direction toward remedying the problem of overcriminalization.

Senate Bill 361, sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, passed with the overwhelming support of the Ohio General Assembly and was signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich. The law requires the legislature to specify the degree of mental culpability in every future criminal statute and clarifies the default mental state that defendants must possess for criminal statutes where none is expressed.

To understand why this change matters, consider this scenario: Two customers exit a restaurant on a winter day and on their way out grab a coat hanging in the lobby. The first customer accidently takes a coat belonging to someone else thinking it was his and carries it out of the store. The second customer likewise grabs the wrong coat but takes it because he decides it looks better than the one he owned.

Should You Be Jailed for Committing a Crime You Didn’t Know Was a Crime?.