Laws Aren’t Always Enforceable

Even though a law may be on the books, it may not always be good law.

Let me give you an example.  On my constitutional law blog I wrote about a Washington State law which bans flag desecration.  See RCW 9.86.030.  The law basically criminalizes any act which will put any flag into disrepute.  And yes it does criminalize flag desecration, the penalty is a gross misdemeanor and the statute is located in Title 9 – Crimes and Punishment of the Revised Code of Washington.

The intention of this law is likely to protect the Washington State flag and the United States flag.  The state also puts limits on what may done with the state seal.  And I would argue some of those limitations are unconstitutional.  So the state is very protective of its image, I think the flag desecration statute fits in with that.

However, as I point out in my blog, the United States Supreme Court has upheld flag desecration as freedom of speech.  Curiously, two of the cases that went in front of the United States Supreme Court originated here in Seattle, Washington.  See Spence v. Washington, 418 US 405, 411 (1974); and United States v. Eichman, 496 US 310 (1990). But Washington State still fails to recognize there may be some right of freedom of speech in flag desecration.

To revise the law, it would take an act of the Washington State Legislature to go back and either rewrite the law to make it constitutional (I am not sure that is possible in this case) or strike the law altogether.  That does not happen as often as it should.  Even though it is an important task, Legislators often are not reelected based upon spring cleaning the Revised Code of Washington.

So there are some laws that may be bad laws that are still on the books.  This puts the public in a precarious position on trying to determine if it is good law or not.

If you run across a case like this it is probably best to talk to an attorney experienced in that area of the law.

Washington State Flag Desecration

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