State v. Woods

107 Vt. 354, 179 A. 1 (1935)



The maxim, ignorantia legis non excusat, and the corresponding presumption that everyone is conclusively presumed to know the law, are of unquestioned application in Vermont as elsewhere, both in civil and in criminal cases.


Respondent married a man in Reno, Nevada immediately after an alleged divorce from his wife in Vermont was granted by the very judge who granted the divorce decree. Vermont did not recognize the Nevada divorce. The trial court convicted respondent of engaging in adulterous conduct under the Blanket Act (Act), P. L. § 8602. Respondent argued that she had an honest belief in the validity of the Nevada divorce and that her subsequent marriage was a defense to criminal prosecution. On appeal, the state supreme court affirmed respondent's criminal conviction.


Could respondent set up as a defense ignorance of the law?




Respondent's mistake was one of law rather than fact, and ignorance of the law was no excuse for its violation. When it was proved that the parties were found in bed together under circumstances affording presumption of an intention to commit the act as charged, then the requirement of the Act was met and ignorance of the law could not be urged as a defense.

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