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The 6 Most Insane Legal Technicalities to Ever Screw Someone

#3. California's School Days

In the 2008-2009 school year, a couple schools in California had timetables where each Friday was 5 to 10 minutes shorter than what the state legally allowed. This doesn't sound like a big deal, and, indeed, when you remember that this was California in the middle of the financial crisis, it almost makes sense. An extra five minutes of school wouldn't matter; these children were doomed anyway.

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Every one of these children would perish in the Thunderdome within the year.

But despite the fact that each school had delivered the full state-mandated minimum classroom time, having made up for those Friday minutes elsewhere, the head asshole of the school district's Department of Assholes declared that "Nope, those Friday's Do Not Count." Because each one was a few minutes short, 34 days of school legally did not take place, and the school district demanded $7 million back (presumably the "Friday" line item on each school's budget).

So, considering that this was obviously just a simple misunderstanding, the school district and the two principals sat down and cleared up the confusion without too much difficulty, and, oh wait, no, of course they fucking didn't. After not considering the problem at all, the school district hurled itself face-first into the stupidest possible solution and demanded each school schedule another six weeks of make-up classes. Keep in mind that this was late June and that the report cards had already gone out. There was absolutely no reason for any of these kids to attend these classes, which were costing money that didn't need to be spent, where nothing was taught at all.

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Except the important lesson that adults are stupid shitheads.

#2. The Scopes Monkey Trial

The Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 was a big deal at the time, dubbed by many observers as the "Trial of the Century." And, you know, while we applaud their ambition, that's a pretty audacious claim to make, 1920s.

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Did your shitty trial have even one glove-related rhyme?

Here's what happened. Tennessee (along with a few other states) had passed a law banning the teaching of evolution in their schools, penalizing it with a $100 fine. The ACLU at the time offered to defend anyone accused of breaching this new law, wanting to overturn this on constitutional grounds. And, after a bit of hunting around, they managed to dig up a Tennessee high school teacher who was willing to plead guilty to teaching evolution. That man's name was John Scopes.

Smithsonian Institution
Pictured here proving, if nothing else, that mankind's taste in hats has evolved.

The trial quickly became a Very Big Deal, the whole thing broadcast over the radio, as mega-famous lawyers William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow took up the case for the prosecution and defense, respectively. The initial trial was apparently a complete gong show, with lengthy arguments about various passages of the Bible, the judge refusing to allow the defense to submit any evidence, and sacks after sacks of childrens' letters to Santa being emptied on the floor (probably). The whole thing eventually concluded with the defense cross-examining the prosecutor, because, sure, who the fuck cares about how trials work any more.

Inevitably, this shitshow of a case made it to the Supreme Court of Tennessee on appeal, where they ruled that, yes, the law was constitutional, that it didn't violate free speech or promote one religion over others, or anything that, you know, was actually true. Instead, they ruled that a fine of $100 was too high, as under the state constitution, the highest fine a judge could set was $50. The conviction was overturned, the prosecution didn't retry, and the defense, wanting to make our break the law on constitutional grounds, saw the whole case evaporate in front of them. It would be 40 more years before these anti-evolutionary laws were ultimately declared unconstitutional, all because of a lousy fifty bucks.

#1. The Small Penis Rule

This one's a little iffy, in that it's a technicality based on a rule of thumb rather than a crazy statute (or even case law). But it's got such a great, visceral name that of course it was going to show up in a Cracked article.


And will be forever linked to my byline.

The Small Penis Rule is a rule of thumb in libel law relating to fictional characters. I've talked a bit about slander before, but this is a small new wrinkle (or bulge, I guess) that I hadn't talked about before, relating to fictional characters. Generally speaking, it is illegal to use another person's name or picture or portrait without his permission. What is legal is using his identity -- traits, characteristics, etc -- provided you don't use his name. So long as I called her something else, I could introduce a character into this column that was clearly Oprah Winfrey, with all of her trademark traits and so forth.

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Like her tremendous wingspan.

But that would only be legal if I didn't libel her. I couldn't, for example, REDACTED.

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"I will sue your ass you dumb m...REDACTED."

Which means that if you really, really wanted to libel this person, because of pettiness or whatever, you would have to employ the Small Penis Rule. This rule of thumb essentially states that if the description of this fictional character has enough obvious differences to the real person, say, by depicting the character as having a small penis, no reader could immediately identify that character as the real person, and that real person would himself refuse to identify himself with that fictional character, thus protecting the author from libel.

This came up recently when well-known asshole and part-time author Michael Crichton named a character in one of his books Mick Crowley, describing him as a Washington-based political columnist and also a lightly endowed child rapist. A characterization that did not sit terribly well with a real-life man named Michael Crowley, also a Washington-based political columnist, who had, probably not coincidentally, written a critical column about Crichton earlier in the year.

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He said the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park weren't convincing enough.

Whether the Small Penis Defense was what Crichton was actually trying and whether it would actually work will never be known, as Crowley didn't pursue the matter in court (libel lawsuits are a huge pain in the ass to prove). The only lesson that could be drawn from this is that you should maybe be careful when criticizing incredibly childish writers.

And, yes, that means you're on notice, Commenters.


Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist, had been indicted for several things, but never convicted. Join him on Facebook or Twitter where he will technically be your friend.

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