How can one determine if an alleged legal requirements in the form of "this is not legal" or the "law requires this" is valid? Is there a quick and effective spot-check similar to Google that would enable a non-lawyer to determine 'bluffing'?

Is the effective tactic to request citation from the originator?

CLARIFICATION: this is question is not intended to explore a particular legal scenario. It is intended to learn / understand how to examine an alleged requirement and determine if it is indeed rooted in a state statute. The challenge is that the individual is frequent bluffs their way through discussion

  • 1
    I don't think it is effective, because most people can't cites statutes even when they exist. Besides, "is not legal" does not mean just "statutorily prohibited".
    – user6726
    Mar 26 '17 at 1:35
  • The core of this question is addressed in Q&A on the IXL tag.
    – feetwet
    Mar 26 '17 at 14:27
  • This is particularly difficult because it is fact intensive. Many seemingly absolute legal statutes (e.g. it is a crime to open the gate to someone who doesn't have permission to enter) have unstated exceptions (e.g. ambulance crews trying to save someone's life).
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 27 '17 at 0:37
  • @ohwilleke indeed, I believe there are statutes on the books that are completely unenforceable, having been found unconstitutional.
    – phoog
    Mar 27 '17 at 2:57

Finding Certainty

There is only one way for certain:

  1. Do the supposedly unlawful thing
  2. Get sued (civil) or prosecuted (criminal)
  3. Go to court - if you win it wan't illegal
  4. If you lose, appeal to the next appellate court in the chain
  5. In one of those courts refuses to hear your appeal - it was illegal
  6. Repeat as necessary until you reach the Supreme Court - if you win it wan't illegal
  7. If you lose or the Supreme Court refuses to hear your appeal - it was illegal.

Of course, this whole cycle will take a few years and quite a lot of money.

Not certain but persuasive

Consult a lawyer: their area of expertise is knowing what the law is and how it will likely apply to your circumstances. Of course, they can be wrong about this because - see above.

Why is this so hard?

Common law jurisdictions, of which Florida is an example, do not have a "Code of Laws" where you can look things up and see if they are legal or illegal. The Common Law in Florida is partially enacted law (by the US, Florida, County, City and finally your housing corporation) and partially unenacted law (decisions made by courts about both the enacted and unenacted law). In fact, enacted law is usually quite ambiguous until it has a body of unenacted (or case) law that surrounds it and provides guidance on how the courts will interpret it.

Part of a lawyers skill is knowing (within their area of expertise) what the relevant case and statute law is with respect to the specific facts of the case, or knowing how to research them.

Publish and be damned!

You can always take the Duke of Wellingtons approach.

In common law jurisdictions, everything is legal unless there is a law (enacted or unenacted) that makes it otherwise.

If you do not believe that the action you wish to take is illegal then advise the other party that you will give them 24 hours to come back with a court injunction to prohibit it, otherwise you will proceed.

You can't call a bluff harder than this!

  • 1
    I think your step 3 doesn't establish legality, just a lack of a finding of guilt / liability.
    – user6726
    Mar 27 '17 at 1:40
  • 1
    @user6726 which means, in those particular circumstances, it was legal.
    – Dale M
    Mar 27 '17 at 3:04
  • 1
    Civil law jurisdictions can be just as opaque as common law jurisdictions. They don't have binding case law to clarify how statutes are interpreted for the most part and their legal treatises tend to avoid the hardest cases.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 27 '17 at 3:30
  • @ohwilleke it was not intended to suggest that other types of legal systems are not equally opaque
    – Dale M
    Mar 27 '17 at 3:55

Unfortunately this is one of the reasons lawyers exist.

The law can be in statute or in case law. Determining legality involves an element of predicting what a court would do if you litigated the issue, which might be something different to what they've done in the past, and you need an experienced lawyer to take a somewhat-reasonable guess at that.

Generally speaking you can ask a person to cite authority for what they are saying, so you can look at the statute or case report and satisfy yourself as to its existence. But, due to the 'prediction' element above, this only gives you part of the story.

Also, as noted by user6726 in the comments, most people can't cite authority for propositions of law even if those propositions are true.

And sometimes a person thinks they are bluffing but they turn out to be right. It is not uncommon to go through a dispute insisting that you are right, but never actually formulate a proper legal argument until litigation starts.

One of the problems is finding the right words to search for, the right statutes to look in and the right words that legislators and judges use to describe the situation you find yourself in. When searching Google, you may find a guide for lay people published by the government or by some other body which may explain the law in a way that is sufficient for your purposes. If such a guide is not sufficient, it will often help you identify words which you need to look for in primary legal resources (i.e. statutes and cases).

Enabling ordinary people to understand the laws that affect them is an open problem.

  • Even if they cite the right authority, that authority may have since been repealed or amended, so further research would be required or, access to paid tools that aggregate such information and knowing how to use them. Mar 26 '17 at 13:18
  • Another source is regulations, which I find particularly difficult to trace back. This is particularly so with "codes", where it's nearly impossible to find a definitive requirement as to the height of a fence.
    – user6726
    Mar 26 '17 at 16:05

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