"Ignorance of the law is no excuse." That is the retort frequently given by the arresting officer, prosecutor, or judge to the cry of a citizen surprised by an obscure law. In a decision as recent as 2008, the Oklahoma Supreme Court offered this helpful reminder as it brought down the ax: "It is axiomatic, that in most instances, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and every person is presumed to know the law."
That is quite a presumption, but is one that must be made if we are to have a functioning civil society operating according to set laws. When I told my mother I did not understand the meaning of her bare preposition, "Take the trash out," I was not spared punishment. Similarly, there can be no mercy for the bank robber who says he doesn't understand proper withdrawal procedures.
But what of the 5,106 pieces of legislation offered up in the most recent session of the Oklahoma legislature, 1,028 of which were completed? Does my presumed knowledge extend that far? Or how about the Federal Register, now growing at the rate of 286 pages per day?
If each of us is charged with the duty to know, understand, and follow all laws existing now and in the future, then we all have reason to keep government small. The alternative is more cages for the ignorant.