SCOFFLAW: a person who regularly ignores the law and refuses to pay the fines imposed

He’s a jaywalker, choosing to cross a busy street in the middle of traffic and refusing to abide by the rules which say that he must use the crosswalk.  And, once there, he is supposed to cross only when the lights direct him to do so.  But he sees himself as above the laws, which were obviously written for people less intelligent or less important than he is.

She’s the one who regularly parks in restricted parking zones, assured that the signs were placed there for someone else.   When a ticket appears on her windshield she tears it up or simply throws it in her glove compartment with the other fifteen she has received over the past year, ignoring the summons to pay a fine.

Or maybe he’s the guy who is driving down the road texting his office about a pending meeting, occasionally peeking up to be sure that he is still in the right lane.  When people in other cars approaching him blow their horn or otherwise signal to put down the phone he gestures to them, indicating that they should mind their own business.   He has rights, too.

These are examples of persons who would be identified by the term scofflaw.  Literally, they blatantly scoff at the law, indicating that it doesn’t apply to them or they don’t agree with it.

I read that the term was coined in 1924 as a result of a national contest to find a name for those who intentionally broke the prohibition laws, refusing to accept the fact that selling or purchasing alcoholic beverages was illegal.  Granted, the law was ridiculous and was soon overturned, but it was the law.   Smoking marijuana in your backyard may be socially acceptable among your friends and relatives, but it is illegal.   Refusing to pay a traffic ticket may be rationalized by noting the stupidity of restricting parking in a particular place, but it is the law.   That text message may be urgent in terms of a pending contract, but texting while driving is illegal.

On a limited scale, it may seem that there is something charming about a scofflaw who doesn’t seem to harm anyone by (his) behavior, but if you are the handicapped person who can’t enter the building to pay your water bill because someone has illegally occupied your parking spot, it isn’t so cute.  When the jaywalker walks in front of you and you hit him accidentally, the insurance company is not going to be your friend without increased premiums. If you happen to be in the car that is crushed when the texting driver crosses the line and hits you it isn’t so funny.   And if you are the parent who has to pay the fine when you are arrested for possession of pot, it isn’t charming.

In a nation of laws we don’t get to choose which laws we will obey and which we will ignore without punishment.  The only rationale for doing so is civil disobedience, in which we willingly accept the punishment of the courts in order to make a political statement. But to fume and rant because the courts require us to pay a fine or go to jail is not acceptable behavior.  The American process for objecting to a law as being unfair is through legislation and the election of those sympathetic to our causes.  Sometimes we win and sometimes we don’t.  In the meantime, the law is the law.


Photo Credit: Jack Cieslak

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