How many times have you watched an implausible movie scene and muttered, “That could never happen in real life”? Turns out, there are plenty of iconic movie, television, and social media moments that viewers consider acceptable when, in real life, they could get you in a tangle with the law.
No votes for selfies
So many people document the minutiae of their daily life on Instagram and the like, it should come as no surprise that they want to show, “I voted!” Unfortunately, voting booth selfies are against the law in 18 states (and there are rules about your apparel too.) Plenty of people, however – including Justin Timberlake – don’t turn off their smartphones as requested when walking into a voting location and proceed to take a selfie with their ballot in hand.
But many people capture themselves doing their civic duty so they can share it with their social media world and encourage others to vote. That’s not so bad, is it?
Racing is a drag
Drag racing on city streets has been glamorized in classic films like American Graffiti, Rebel Without a Cause, and the eight installments of the Fast & Furious movie franchise. Sadly, life imitated art when Furious star Paul Walker was killed in a fiery car crash.
Illegal street racing is inherently dangerous – any kind of car racing is, even at sanctioned race tracks with strict driving guidelines and EMS and fire officials on hand – but that doesn’t stop people from risking their lives and those of others. In Dallas last year, a crackdown on the popular street racing that draws crowds of spectators on a straight quarter-mile stretch of road resulted in arrests for criminal trespass and racing on a highway.
Not so sweet stuff
If you’re a fan of the Three Stooges, you’ve seen plenty of classic pie-in-the-face moments. In reality, this comedy gold is a misdemeanor or felony waiting to happen. Just ask Navid Farsi, the man who smacked Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine with a bag of powdered sugar in 2015 as the celeb was walking into the Jimmy Kimmel Live Hollywood studio.
Farsi is known for his “literal” attacks, like throwing a rock at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The assault on Levine was no doubt a pun on his band’s hit song “Sugar.” Farsi was charged with battery and sentenced to three years of probation, counseling sessions, and community service.
“Someone who throws a pie in the face of another could potentially face civil and criminal liability for the crimes of assault and battery. The criminal crime would almost certainly be a misdemeanor and the damages in a civil case would likely be minuscule unless the victim suffered some type of serious injury to the eye for example,” says Morris Lilienthal, attorney with Martinson & Beason in Huntsville, Alabama.
Dog off leash
Once upon a time, dogs could roam free and enjoy the land, at least on television. In fact, unleashed dogs were so common there was an entire episode of Lassie that focused on her owner becoming overprotective and keeping her constantly leashed. But as any dog owner knows, leashes not only keep their dogs safe from harm, they help prevent the dogs from harming others. Which is why many cities across the United States have leash laws.
In fact, some cities and states have gone even further, enacting “dangerous dog laws” which apply to pets deemed dangerous by a judge or public health official after a public hearing. The ASPCA acknowledges that some dogs can pose serious threats if they are not properly trained and socialized, especially when combined with a genetic predisposition to be aggressive or predatory. However, the ASPCA also believes aggression is justified in situations where the dog is protecting itself, its owner, or its offspring, leash or no leash.
Where there are daredevils, there are extreme sports. And risk-takers have taken activities like skydiving and flagpole sitting to a new level with BASE jumping and skyscraper scaling. Many places have enacted laws against BASE jumping, and even in locales where it’s not illegal on its own, jumpers must covertly scale an object (typically a building, antenna, bridge, or cliff) to launch themselves – and that means trespassing. Get caught and charges could also include reckless endangerment, vandalism, or even breaking and entering depending on the scene of the crime.
New Jersey teen Justin Casquejo is making a name for himself on social media, scaling Manhattan skyscrapers and posting photos of his escapades. He’s also earned a police record, with charges of criminal trespass, second-degree reckless endangerment, and misdemeanor BASE jumping. His most notable crime thus far was climbing 1 World Trade Center while it was under construction.
Cover up, Buttercup
Clark Kent transforms into Superman in a phone booth. Nowadays, you would be hard-pressed to find a phone booth in the United States. But if you saw a man in a suit stripping down in public, a charge of indecent exposure wouldn’t be far behind. Even mannequins need to be decent, at least in Quitman, Georgia where it’s illegal to change a storefront mannequin without the shades down.
And then there’s the mass indecent exposure of the annual World Naked Bike Ride. This event, billed as a protest against automobile traffic and its attendant pollution, takes place in many U.S. cities. While it is intended to be peaceful, arrests do happen. Public nudity is sometimes more acceptable than you might think, but violence or aggression could get you cuffed for disorderly conduct, exposure of a person, and public lewdness.
Jump right out, the water ain’t fine
One of the most memorable scenes in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is of Ferris and his two friends munching on Oreos and enjoying a swimming pool at someone’s private home. Whether you’re home or not, your water oasis could turn into a liability.
“Having a pool or swimming hole on your property can certainly expose you to potential civil and criminal liability under the attractive nuisance doctrine,” says Lilienthal. “If a landowner has a dangerous condition on their property that is likely to attract children, they are generally charged with a duty to warn against the danger and to take steps to protect children from the potentially dangerous condition.”
The moral of these stories: Just because you see it done on screen, that doesn’t make it legal in real life.