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  • Law for Backpackers

    LAW FOR BACKPACKERS 101

    The file that is "attached" here is the final version of my full Law for Backpackers 101 article, that began as a series of summarizations of topics with a lot of message debate in the "Straight Forward" Forum. It's in Adobe PDF format, which is easy to open, but if you can't, it is probably because you don't have Adobe "Reader." If that's the case, it's available on the Internet for free at Adobe.com.

    If anyone has suggestions, I welcome them, and comments about anything in here - pro or con - are welcome.

    I'd also appreciate you voting in the Poll above. It helps me with considering revisions.

    I hope this is useful to you. Thanks for letting me try.

    The Weasel
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Law for Backpackers started by The Weasel View original post
    Comments 130 Comments
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Weary:

      Here's the rub: It's a principle of law that if a statute is ambiguous, a court may attempt (using some very specific rules) to determine what the intent of the legislature was in adopting it. But when it's not ambiguous, and is very clear, then a court is not free to say, "this is absurd" even if it is all-but-certain that the legislature never meant that result.

      Here's a case that proves that point (I'm from Michigan, and a Democrat, but I take no joy in the perversity of this case, although it is also pretty funny, in its own way): Michigan law prohibits adultery, and makes it technically a relatively low level crime. No one is prosecuted for this. Michigan law also says that any other felony that happens at the same time as any unlawful sexual penetration occurs means that adultery becomes Criminal Sexual Conduct 1, a felony punishable by life in prison.

      The Michigan Court of Appeals said, front up, that it couldn't believe the legislature meant that, but had to go with the clear words of the statute. What made it interesting is that the Michigan Attorney General's office, which was raising this point, didn't realize that, when it won, it also meant that the Attorney General, who had admitted a few years ago to cheating on his wife, was now capable of being indicted for CSC 1 (also known as first degree rape). http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/a...OL04/701150333

      So if Maine Law says, "No drinking," period, well, "No means No." Even if not prosecuted in the past, well....you pays your money, you takes your chances.

      The Weasel
    1. weary's Avatar
      weary -
      My point is that Baxter is a pretty small, close knit community. I haven't researched their payroll, but I tend to see the same rangers year after year. I'm sure there are well under 100 employees -- probably only two or three dozen, all of whom undergo training periodically.

      If the three trustees in charge -- one of whom is always the attorney general of the state -- changed the regulations to allow alcoholic beverages at campsites, no one is going to be arrested for doing so, regardless of the deficiencies of the language.

      And if an over zealous, or ignorant ranger, somehow, arrests someone in violation of the intent, it is unlikely to be prosecuted.

      The former park director worked there for 40 years. His replacement has worked there for 25 years. There is an institutional memory of how things are supposed to work in Baxter that perhaps overrides quirks in the language of the rules.

      I'm now so far out on a limb in this discussion that I'll have to check for sure what the rangers think the regulations require. I know for a fact that alcohol is openly consumed in the park. On one winter walk through the middle of the park I left behind my favorite flask in a bunkhouse. I called the park headquarters when got home and asked them to save it for me if anyone found it. I was assured that they would do so.

      Perhaps the language is deliberately ambiguous to make it easier to oust those who abuse the privilege.

      WEary
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Weary, you are making a GREAT point. Let me do it clearly; it shows the difference between a lawyer and a client.

      A lawyer's job is to give a client full information about what the law requires and forbids, and what the risks are. Sometimes - but not always - the lawyer will know the practicalities of a situation, but that's not essential. I'm being a lawyer when I interpret the law to say: "Thou shalt not..." to say, "No means no."

      A client takes that information and decides whether the risk of violation is high enough to make it an issue. You're saying, for instance, "They don't mind; it's not an issue in practice." That's good. You've heard the law, assessed the risk, and you decide what to do. That's the job of a client.

      Thanks for helping me to explain this. Too many people don't understand it.

      The Weasel
    1. Lone Wolf's Avatar
      Lone Wolf -
      Quote Originally Posted by weary View Post
      I know for a fact that alcohol is openly consumed in the park.
      the rules and regs say NO alcohol in maine state parks but i called the BSP main office and asked them if one could consume alcohol in BSP and the lady told me it was fine as long as nobody got loud or rowdy. rules are made to be bent and broken.
    1. weary's Avatar
      weary -
      Quote Originally Posted by L. Wolf View Post
      the rules and regs say NO alcohol in maine state parks but i called the BSP main office and asked them if one could consume alcohol in BSP and the lady told me it was fine as long as nobody got loud or rowdy. rules are made to be bent and broken.
      Lone Wolf. You are right for all but one state park. For all parks except Baxter, the rules are clear. Baxter, however, was set up by Governor Baxter under a whole different set of rules. The good governor set up a three-member authority to regulate his park, and the Legislature concurred. Baxter rules are not the rules that govern other state parks in Maine.

      In other parks the consumption of alcohol is flatly prohibited. In Baxter, the rules say general state alcohol laws will prevail. The general laws say no drinking in public places. In Baxter your campsite is not considered a public place, but rather your private domain.

      If I drink a beer in public view while visiting the state park five miles from my home, I'll receive a warning or maybe be arrested -- if a ranger walks by.

      If I am drinking wine at my campsite in Baxter and a ranger walks by he will probably smile or wave -- or perhaps stop to chat about the weather, or the mountain, or how well I'm enjoying my visit.

      If the wine gets mentioned at all it will deal with the make or vintage, or his comment that he prefers bourbon.

      Technically, drinking at a Baxter park public picnic table is illegal, as is a celebratory toast on the summit. But usually such violations are ignored, also, in my experience.

      Weary
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Other places, including shelters, along the Trail seem to be getting "no alcohol allowed" rules, along with increased enforcement. This site is an ATC study about several shelters. It's in PDF format; open it and search for "alcohol". Two of the shelters (1 with existing prohibition, and another may have it soon) are mentioned as specific problem areas.

      http://www.appalachiantrail.org/atf/...ng_Impacts.pdf

      The Weasel
    1. RobKimball's Avatar
      RobKimball -
      Weasel,

      I found your article very worthwhile! I may be a bit biased in that I am a student of law and politics, but there are (as you state) a host of situations in which it is invaluable to be aware of your own legal rights and status. I was particularly interested in the concealed weapon and campsite search

      One thing I would clarify is the gravity of the Endangered Species Act. The ESA covers literally hundreds of species of plants and animals along the path of the Appalachian Trail, and does not just punish killing this wildlife: it makes it illegal to "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" them too!.

      The penalties can be startlingly harsh, too: the Act limits punishment to a fine of $25,000 and/or up to one year in prison.

      So, for your sake and theirs, be kind to our endangered neighbors!

      Thanks again for a great resource!

      More info: http://www.fws.gov/Endangered/wildlife.html


    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      If anyone sees any need for new topics I will try to add them from time to time. Post them here, if so.

      The Weasel
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Quarterly call for new topics in the article or if there is anything others think needs updating. I am working on some revisions and will upload them in the next two weeks, so this is a good time for comments.

      Poll is still open for those who have read the article, and voting is appreciated.

      The Weasel
    1. Uncle Silly's Avatar
      Uncle Silly -
      I only skimmed it quickly, Weasel, but it looks good. There are too many jurisdictions involved to be specific in a document such as this, but you've outlined the basics, and given the hiker an idea of what should be kept in mind. This is definitely recommended reading.
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      One of the topics that comes up at least annually is "Nude Hiking Day" or generally the concept of nude hiking. The link below (and the blog, generally) is a good piece of information, and while it is obviously limited to Los Angeles County, it is a good description of the concepts: That (a) in some places, nudity is only forbidden if it involves "lewdness" (in this case, California state law) while in other situations, ANY nudity is forbidden (such as Los Angeles County's ordinances for county parks).

      I'll revise the article a bit based on this.

      http://nudehiker.blogspot.com/2007/0...riff-says.html

      The Weasel
    1. Alligator's Avatar
      Alligator -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Weasel View Post
      One of the topics that comes up at least annually is "Nude Hiking Day" or generally the concept of nude hiking. The link below (and the blog, generally) is a good piece of information, and while it is obviously limited to Los Angeles County, it is a good description of the concepts: That (a) in some places, nudity is only forbidden if it involves "lewdness" (in this case, California state law) while in other situations, ANY nudity is forbidden (such as Los Angeles County's ordinances for county parks).

      I'll revise the article a bit based on this.

      http://nudehiker.blogspot.com/2007/0...riff-says.html

      The Weasel
      If you are revising your nudity section, which states
      All states, and most towns/cities and counties have laws or
      ordinances prohibiting public nudity and public sexual activity as
      “indecent exposure” or “public lewdness” or similar terms.
      please look into laws in the state of VT. The ongoing saga of Brattleboro suggests that public nudity is not banned in VT. The Boston globe writes

      Vermont has no state laws against public nudity, although a handful of cities and towns have enacted anti nudity ordinances.
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alligator View Post
      If you are revising your nudity section, which states
      please look into laws in the state of VT. The ongoing saga of Brattleboro suggests that public nudity is not banned in VT. The Boston globe writes


      I looked, and Vermont is consistent with many states. "Lewd and lascivious conduct" - which generally includes public nudity and is vague enough that prosecutors and law enforcement officers can (and sometimes do, as the forest service agents mentioned in the Los Angeles County situation I just posted) argue that it "lewd and lascivious conduct" includes nudity even in a non-sexualized way. In Vermont, the offense is apparently a 5 year felony.

      http://www.leg.state.vt.us/statutetext/13/[email protected]!.htm

      Not the first time the Globe has been wrong. Hate to ruin your faith in it.

      The Weasel
    1. notorius tic's Avatar
      notorius tic -
      I think that it all goes back to the law of man kind.. Respect 1 an other an fore most away from the concrete jungle respect the land. Fore with out it we would have nouthing.
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Quote Originally Posted by notorius tic View Post
      I think that it all goes back to the law of man kind.. Respect 1 an other an fore most away from the concrete jungle respect the land. Fore with out it we would have nouthing.
      Yeah, well, sorry: "The law of mankind" don't apply in trial courts. So if you're gonna let Willy and the Boys hang out in public, watch out. The penalties can be far worse than you - or the Boston Globe - may realize.

      The Weasel
    1. Lugnut's Avatar
      Lugnut -
      Strange but true: A guy in Florida moons a vehicle - one of the passengers was a 14 year old boy - the 'mooner' is arrested and charged with a sex crime and will apparently have to register as a sex offender if convicted.
      I don't know if other states are becoming that draconian but it's something to think about if you are planning on mooning the cog railroad at Mt. Washington. There will no doubt be kids on board.
    1. The Weasel's Avatar
      The Weasel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lugnut View Post
      Strange but true: A guy in Florida moons a vehicle - one of the passengers was a 14 year old boy - the 'mooner' is arrested and charged with a sex crime and will apparently have to register as a sex offender if convicted.
      I don't know if other states are becoming that draconian but it's something to think about if you are planning on mooning the cog railroad at Mt. Washington. There will no doubt be kids on board.
      Lug, that's what got my point on "nude hiking day" going back in the day when it was a thread, before the Article (which makes precisely your point as emphatically as I can): People think a little "public nudity" ticket is no big deal, plead guilty, pay $50 or so, and then, later, find out they are sex offenders. Smart: Fight the ticket. Smartest: Don't go nude in public.

      Hate to say that, but it's one of those things where "probabilities" are really unforgiving: "Lit matches next to gas tanks probably won't make them explode."

      Someday, someone is going to get busted for this along the AT and get their life ruined when some bunch of kids is on the trail and sees some old bearded guy with nothing but a hipbelt across his front, and some prosecutor is going to realize that busting one Yankee thruhiker don't cost him any votes from the local Baptist Church come next election day.

      The Weasel
    1. TJ aka Teej's Avatar
      TJ aka Teej -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Weasel View Post
      In Vermont, the offense is apparently a 5 year felony.

      http://www.leg.state.vt.us/statutetext/13/[email protected]!.htm

      Not the first time the Globe has been wrong. Hate to ruin your faith in it.
      What Alligator typed ("The ongoing saga of Brattleboro suggests that public nudity is not banned in VT.") is true.
      Not the first time some California lawyer didn't know what he was talking about.
    1. Roland's Avatar
      Roland -
      Quote Originally Posted by TJ aka Teej View Post
      What Alligator typed ("The ongoing saga of Brattleboro suggests that public nudity is not banned in VT.") is true.
      Not the first time some California lawyer didn't know what he was talking about.

      Don't hold back, TJ, tell us how you really feel.
    1. Alligator's Avatar
      Alligator -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Weasel View Post
      I looked, and Vermont is consistent with many states. "Lewd and lascivious conduct" - which generally includes public nudity and is vague enough that prosecutors and law enforcement officers can (and sometimes do, as the forest service agents mentioned in the Los Angeles County situation I just posted) argue that it "lewd and lascivious conduct" includes nudity even in a non-sexualized way. In Vermont, the offense is apparently a 5 year felony.

      http://www.leg.state.vt.us/statutetext/13/[email protected]!.htm

      Not the first time the Globe has been wrong. Hate to ruin your faith in it.

      The Weasel
      One can find mention of the ongoing Brattleboro nude saga across the net . Vermont has no state law against nudity.

      http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,273216,00.html

      Strange that the town council would feel they need to pass a separate emergency measure to ban nudity if they already had an enforceable law on the books.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/19/us...rssnyt&emc=rss

      The VT State attorney general. http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=5013117
      "Simply the fact that you're unclothed is not against the law," says Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.

      Now lewdness and lascivity will get you arrested
      http://apnews.myway.com/article/20070517/D8P6D3H01.html

      You ought to fix your article .
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