Unenforced law

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An unenforced law (also symbolic law) is a crime which is illegal, but is usually not penalized by a jurisdiction. It is a law which is usually ignored by law enforcement, therefore such laws have no consequences.[1] Some people have criticized such laws claiming that it indicates sometimes the law means what it says, sometimes it doesn't.[2]


The law may be put in place simply for symbolic reasons, but without actual prosecutions taking place.[3] For example speeding is illegal, but patrol officers usually ignore motorists who are 5-10 miles an hour over the legal limit.[4] Automate ticketing systems like computerized cameras will still issue fines in these circumstances in some but not all US states.[5]

Although incest is illegal in many European countries, it is generally not enforced if between two consenting adults.[6]

Laws which are symbolic typically attempt to persuade rather than enforce, punish or prevent.[7][8] An example is adultery in Colorado, where it is prohibited by law, but not punishable in any way.[4]


  1. Modern criminal law; Wayne R. LaFave; P 53
  2. Teenage kissing: The new sex crime? BBC retrieved 29 January 2012
  3. The legal system: a social science perspective retrieved 29 January 2012
  4. 4.0 4.1 Law Without Values: The Life, Work, and Legacy of Justice Holmes retrieved 29 January 2012
  5. http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/15750/what-is-the-right-level-for-speed-camera-fines/
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. Law as symbolic form Deniz Coskun
  8. Prospective magazine retrieved 29 January 2012

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