In the world of law, there are essentially two types of crimes: mala en se (Latin for evil in itself) crimes and mala prohibita (Latin for evil prohibited) crimes. The distinction is important, and most Americans don’t understand these concepts.
Mala en se crimes are obvious infringements upon the rights of others. This would include things like robbery, rape, or murder. I say that these crimes are obvious, because every organized society has laws against these crimes, and the harm they inflict is obvious and immediate.
These acts contain the element of mens rea (a guilty mind). Anybody of normal state of mind knows that they are violating these laws and thus understand they have committed a “wrong”.
Contrast that idea with mala prohibita crimes – acts that are crimes because somebody said so. These are laws like prostitution, drug use, etc.
You can argue the ills of these acts, but in themselves they do not infringe on anybody else’s rights. Mala prohibita laws are not universal in US states, across the globe, or historically. Why? Because mostly they enforce whoever is in power’s moral system. They try to replace self-regulation with government regulation of consensual activity.
The US constitution was originally drafted and has been amended to bind the federal government from creating and enforcing mala prohibita laws. The bill of rights is a stunning document outlining the types of things the government cannot infringe upon – freedom of speech, religion, freedom from self-incriminatiom, freedom from illegal detainment, search and seizure, the right to own and bear arms.
Mala prohibita laws are tricky because you can violate them with no mens rea. You can be in violation of mala prohibita laws without even knowing it quite easily. Think about the tens of thousands of pages of tax code.
You may have heard that ignorance of the law is no defense. That saying comes from 18th century British Law scholar Blackstone who wrote:
“Ignorantia juris quod quisque tenetur scire, neminem excusat.” (ignorance of the law, which everyone is bound to know, excuses no man)
Most people have never heard the “which everyone is bound to know” part. What he’s talking about here is Natural Law. The idea of Natural Law is that you have certain rights by virtue of being born human – whether you think they are endowed by God, or simply extend from your status as a person. Everyone in society is bound to know that violating your personal or property rights is wrong. On the other hand, I may not know that whistling on Sunday is banned in certain towns, and I might get pardoned for whistling if I’m from out of town.
Why is understanding this important for self defense in Maine?
First, you should understand that your right to defend your person and your property from harm is a natural right. It extends from the very fact that you are human. All states have guidelines on what citizens may do to defend themselves. I’ll let the legal scholars argue about them. But you should read and understand what they are – and good luck.
Second, I think some of our mala prohibita crimes with regard to self defense are ridiculous. For example, if your kid has a slingshot in his backpack – technically he is committing a Class D crime in Maine and can be imprisoned for 364 days. A woman who has a concealed carry weapons permit allowing her to have a gun concealed on her person, she still could be arrested for having a stun gun in her purse.
I raise this because my students frequently ask about which self-defense weapons are legal to carry in Maine. I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice, but as I read the law it basically states that no item used for self defense can be carried concealed on or about your person except for a firearm by someone who has a permit or defensive sprays like pepper spray.
This is a bad law for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that there probably are many thousands of people inadvertently breaking this law every single day.
The real problem with outlawing objects is that it disarms the law abiding citizens, and creates a class of criminals who have never violated a law except for owning the object – and may not ever know they have broken the law. In general, laws restricting people’s ability to defend themselves from violence increase violent crime.
I have written to my state senator and state representative recently in hopes of opening a dialog to discuss Maine Statute Title 25 252. Section 2001A. “Threatening display of or carrying concealed weapon”. I will keep you informed, but I hope you go read and understand the laws of the state regarding self defense.