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No spitting or margarine allowed: The absurd, outdated or just plain silly laws

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//August 22, 2011//

No spitting or margarine allowed: The absurd, outdated or just plain silly laws

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//August 22, 2011//

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When walking in Wauwatosa, people best keep their saliva to themselves, or risk running afoul of the law.

Local ordinance 8.08.130, which mandates that nobody shall “spit, expectorate or deposit any sputum, spittle, saliva, phlegm, mucus, tobacco juice or wads of tobacco” on public property, is one of several strange Wisconsin laws still on the books.

In Sun Prairie, residents are advised to keep their felines in check, and out of public cemeteries, an offense that violates section 6.04.080 of the city code.

And statewide, restaurant owners could be cuffed for serving margarine instead of butter, unless explicitly asked for by a patron.

Such odd, and often-times outdated, laws are buried in volumes of ordinances across the state. We asked local attorneys to pick out some of their favorites and explain why some laws were made to be broken.

Old enough?

Jerry Buting

“We have 17 year olds charged as adults in criminal court, but nothing else. It passed back in the ’90s during the whole juvenile violence crack cocaine thing. But since then, science has proven that juveniles, particularly males, generally mature later than 17.

They can’t vote, can’t fight in the Army and can’t drink. But they are supposed to be old enough to be prosecuted in criminal court?

Money is the only reason for not changing it back to 18, because then counties would have to pay for another whole year of kids. If the juvenile age is 17, than counties get stuck with that cost, not the state.

If they are serious, hardened thugs, they can always still be waived into adult court. But many first-offense resources can be used outside of the court process where they can get counseling or community service without the criminal record.”
– Jerry Buting
Buting & Williams SC

A battery of changes

Ray Dall'Osto

“Add-ons to the battery statute have made it look like a Christmas tree. In the mid-’70s you had battery, which was a misdemeanor, and then aggravated battery or mayhem, which was like cutting someone’s face up. That was a felony and it made sense.

Now the definition of injury has changed to make it ridiculous. Injury is now pain, which can be a little or a lot.

As far as battery itself, like three categories have become 30. There is battery to a police officer, which is the first ornament on the tree. Then you have classifications like battery to jurors, public officials and transit vehicle operators.

Is there sort of a need for this? Frankly, I’ve been practicing for more than 30 years and I thought the laws were fine. If you were hurt, you could charge them.”
– Ray Dall’Osto
Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP

X-ray ban

“It’s still a crime to use a fluoroscopic shoe-fitting machine, which at one time was sort of a problem. It was essentially an X-ray machine invented in the 1920s where people put their foot down and it measured their shoe size.

The concern was that it was dosing people with high levels of X-ray.

It’s only a Class B forfeiture, but it’s clearly not relevant to the criminal code now because it’s not FDA approved and none of them are in use.”
– Dean Strang
Hurley, Burish & Stanton SC

Consenting adults

Hank Schultz

“The adultery statute. I recall one case I had in my 30 years as a lawyer and it made quite a stir. But it’s a law that I think is considered by anybody trained in the law to be something that goes beyond the power of the state to regulate in the area of privacy.

The statute prohibits a married person from having sex with a person who is not their spouse or an unmarried person from having sex with someone else who is married. Both are Class I felonies.

Our laws have evolved to the point that two consenting adults can pretty much do whatever they want, whether it’s heterosexual, homosexual, married or unmarried. So this particular law is one that I think should be repealed to be consistent.

I think any district attorney who would charge it would be foolish.”
– Hank Schultz
Schultz Law Office

Implied consent

Michael Witt

“The implied consent statute is facially silly. When an officer arrests someone suspected of operating under the influence, the state requires that the person be read something like six paragraphs of legalese suggesting they have a choice on whether to submit to testing.

The reality is the officer has the ability to force a blood test if there is probable cause to arrest instead of going through this whole routine that can lead to endless litigation.

The officer asks if the person will submit to a breath test and if the person says no, the officer can say, ‘Okay, we’re going to the hospital to take blood.’ It just seems like an unnecessary step.

These statutes were cooked up back when the thought was you needed a warrant to get blood, before exigent circumstances, but that has not been the case for at least 20 years.”
– Michael Witt
Criminal Defense & Civil Litigation LLC

Animal cruelty

Robert Henak

“A hypocritical law is the cruelty to animals statute. It basically says that cruelty or mistreatment of an animal basically includes just killing them. But you have much of the state’s industry made up of killing animals and eating them, or killing them for pleasure in terms of hunting.

Now, I’m not someone who wants to go out and make it a crime to hunt or raise pigs and cows for slaughter, but just the logic of the way the law is set up seems pretty inconsistent.

Intent should definitely be taken into account. If you intend to be mean and cause harm to animals, it makes send to make it illegal. As I recall, the cruelty and mistreatment statute doesn’t make that distinction.

So technically, anybody who is slaughtering cows or pigs would probably fall within that statute.”
– Robert Henak
Henak Law Office SC


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