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 within the US state of Maryland, where it is prohibited by law with just a $10 fine, but not punishable by imprisonment in any way.[9][4] The US state of Colorado repealed the adultery statute, effective since 1 July, 2013.[10]

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