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Strange laws in every state

  • U.S. Coast Guard
    1/ U.S. Coast Guard

    Intro

    States have created some odd laws over the years, from prohibiting the sale of musical instruments on Sundays to outlawing fishing for trout from the back of an animal. Some of these laws are simply outdated, such as the one requiring public officials to promise they have never fought in a duel with a deadly weapon. Others have left us outright perplexed—it’s actually still illegal for unmarried persons to fornicate in Virginia, regardless of age or consent.

    Each state has its share of strange laws, but many of the ones seen circling around on the Internet are myths. Here at Stacker, we researched government websites and credible news sources to bring you real odd laws from each state. Some of them have been repealed since they were created, but many of them exist and are still being enforced. See the strange laws from your state to make sure you don’t get in trouble for taking a selfie with a tiger, for example.

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    Alabama

    The state banned card-playing, gaming, hunting, racing and other activities on Sunday. Those caught doing so would receive a fine between $10 and $100, and face up to three months in jail or hard labor. This strange law was eventually repealed in 2015.

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    Alaska

    It’s illegal for a drunk person to knowingly enter or remain on a premises where alcohol is served. Police started enforcing the law in 2012 by arresting drunk customers and the employees that served them. What exactly is the point of a bar, then?

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    Arizona

    Donkeys are forbidden from sleeping in bathtubs. As the legend goes, one man used to let his donkey sleep in an old tub. One day, the animal—while in the tub—was washed a mile down the valley when the town of Kingman flooded in 1924. The donkey survived the incident, but the town spent a lot of money, time and manpower to rescue it. 

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    Arkansas

    Even if you’re having the luckiest streak of your life, it’s still illegal for a pinball machine to give away more than 25 free games to a player who keeps winning. The law was formed to regulate gambling when valuables are being exchanged. 

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    6/ Don DeBold // Flickr

    California

    Dogs are not allowed to pursue bears or other large mammals in California. The law went into effect in 2012 because some hunting practices were deemed cruel and unnecessary.

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    Colorado

    It is illegal to ride a horse while under the influence. In 2013, Colorado police arrested a man suspected of riding his horse while intoxicated.

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    Connecticut

    Plagiarizing your schoolwork will get you more than just an honor court sentencing in Connecticut. It is flat-out illegal to sell a term paper, essay, dissertation, thesis, or any other kind of academic work.

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    Delaware

    It is unlawful in the second degree to sell cat or dog fur. If caught, one could face a $2,500 fine and be barred from owning a cat or dog for 15 years.

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    Florida

    The state banned the controversial sport of dwarf-tossing in bars in 1989. It was a popular activity until dwarf tossee David Wilson died of alcohol poisoning. A legislator attempted to unsuccessfully repeal the law in 2011.

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    Georgia

    In Gainesville, people are required to eat fried chicken with their hands—one woman was nearly arrested for to trying to eat it with a fork. The law was originally passed in 1961 as a public relations stunt to promote the city’s chicken industry.

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    Hawaii

    Billboards became illegal in Hawaii in 1927 through the efforts of local urban-beautification club The Outdoor Circle. There have been 18 exceptions to the law since it was passed.

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    Idaho

    It used to be illegal to fish for trout from the back of any animal in Idaho. The law was formed during the early 20th century, but it has since been repealed. However, it is still illegal to chase fish up or downstream.

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    Illinois

    Minors enrolled in a culinary program are allowed to sip alcohol beverages—as long as they spit it out afterwards. The law was passed in 2012 because culinary school directors argued students need to learn how to taste wine during their early years of school, regardless of whether they were 21 years of age.

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    Indiana

    Liquor stores are prohibited from selling chilled water and soda, but they can sell the beverages at room temperature. Lottery tickets and tobacco products are fair game, however.

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    Iowa

    It is illegal to try to pass off margarine as butter in the state of Iowa. The law helped maintain transparency through the butter vs. margarine debate as the dairy-free alterative gained popularity in the mid-20th century.

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    Kansas

    It’s illegal to catch fish with your hands without a permit. The permit only allows people to handfish flathead catfish—also known as “noodling”—from sunrise to sunset from June 15 through August 31. Other states have deemed handfishing illegal as well. Flathead catfish are considered “top game,” and regulated as a result.

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    Kentucky

    Public officers, legislators and lawyers are required to take an oath stating they have not fought in a duel with a deadly weapon. The law was created in 1849 to deter men from participating in the once-popular tradition.

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    Louisiana

    Florists are required to obtain a license in Louisiana before beginning work. The exam to obtain the license costs $150, and the licensing fee costs $75.

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    Maine

    A person conducting or assisting in Beano—a form of bingo—is allowed to play the cards for a player taking a restroom break. However, the law does not apply to high-stakes Beano.

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    Maryland

    It’s a misdemeanor to sell non-latex condoms through a vending machine. Doing so can cost you up to $1,000. However, condoms can be sold via vending machine on premises where alcoholic beverages are also sold. 

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    Massachusetts

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” must be sung or played in its entirety in Massachusetts. Failure to do so can result in a fine up to $100. 

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    Michigan

    Adultery has been considered a felony in Michigan since 1931. In 2012, Portage police Sgt. James Myers was fired from his job for cheating on his wife while using a city-issued cell phone and email account during work hours.

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    Minnesota

    It is illegal to grease or oil a pig and then release it with the purpose of the animal being captured. It’s also prohibited to release or throw a chicken or turkey with the same purpose.

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    Mississippi

    Cursing in front of two or more people in public can land you in jail for up to 30 days and/or fined up to $100. The same consequences apply for being drunk in front of two or more people in public.

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    Missouri

    If you want to braid hair in Missouri, you need to obtain a license, which requires 1,500 hours of cosmetology classes and can cost at least $12,000. In 2017, lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to override the law.

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    Montana

    Guiding animals onto train tracks with the intention of injuring the train corporation is punishable by a fine up to $50,000 and five years in prison. In 2011, more than 800 antelope and deer were killed on Montana’s train tracks during winter, but there was no mention of the animals being intentionally brought on the tracks by a person.

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    Nebraska

    It is illegal for persons suffering from a venereal disease to marry. Until 2007, the state also required that women applying for a marriage license get a blood test for rubella.

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    Nevada

    Throwing objects from a chairlift is illegal in Nevada. The law was introduced in 1987 and applies to skiers and snowboarders.

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    New Hampshire

    In 1973, the state banned collecting seaweed at night. Those caught doing so are “guilty of a violation,” but no specific punishment is listed.

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    New Jersey

    It is illegal to wear a bulletproof vest while committing murder or another violent crime. Doing so can bump up the act to a second- or first-degree crime.

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    New Mexico

    It is considered a misdemeanor to improperly use the National Anthem through singing, playing or rendering the song in a public space. The law also applies to the official state song, "Oh Fair New Mexico.”

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    New York

    It is illegal to take a selfie with a tiger. The law was created in 2014 to prevent maulings at circuses and fairs, where members of the public can interact with tigers. Breaking this law results in a $500 fine.

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    North Carolina

    Bingo sessions are not allowed to exceed five hours, and only two sessions may be held per week at a single establishment. In addition, two bingo sessions may not be held within a 48-hour period. These laws don’t apply to bingo games at fairs, so maybe the state just needed to crack down on retirement homes.

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    North Dakota

    Exterminating pigeons or other harmful wildbirds is considered illegal without a permit from the Fargo health department. They are subject to state-sanctioned pest control, however, because they are considered a public nuisance if they reside “within corporate limits” of a city. 

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    Ohio

    Underground coal mine operators are required to provide “an adequate supply of toilet paper.” The law was introduced in 1995, but one would hope it should have gone without saying.

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    Oklahoma

    It is illegal to wrestle a bear in Oklahoma, and doing so can cost you a year in jail and/or a fine up to $2,000. Horse-tripping—the act of causing the animal to lose its balance using a rope, a stick or another object—is also illegal.

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    Oregon

    Hunting in a cemetery is considered a misdemeanor in Oregon. We’re not quite sure what one would be hunting for in a cemetery, though.

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    Pennsylvania

    Fortune telling is considered illegal in the state of Pennsylvania. In 2015, a woman faced trial for 55 counts of fortune telling, theft by deception and theft by unlawful taking.

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    Rhode Island

    A license is required to play professional sports in Rhode Island on a Sunday. Ice polo and hockey are exempt from this law unless they’re played in a rink or an enclosed building on Sunday.

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    South Carolina

    Musical instruments, television sets and jewelry are just some items prohibited from being sold on Sundays. It’s also illegal to sell clothing on Sunday unless it’s souvenirs, novelties, swimwear, undergarments or hosiery.

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    South Dakota

    In the city of Huron, it is illegal to create static between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The law was created to ensure static wouldn’t interfere with the receiving apparatuses for television and radio broadcasts.

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    Tennessee

    Albino deer are protected in this state, making it illegal to hunt, intentionally harm or trap the animal. It is considered a misdemeanor because albino deer are regarded as extremely rare.

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    Texas

    Members of office must “acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” Through this acknowledgement, they are exempt from taking a religious test in order to hold office.

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    Utah

    Utah requires restaurants to put up “Zion curtains” between the bar and the seating area to keep patrons from being tempted by or exposed to alcoholic drinks being made. In 2016, lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to overturn the law.

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    Vermont

    It’s illegal to prohibit clotheslines in the state of Vermont. Clotheslines are considered a “solar energy device” under this law.

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    Virginia

    It is a Class 4 misdemeanor for unmarried persons to have sex. Even if it’s consensual and both parties are of legal age, it is still illegal to break this law, passed in 1950 although Lawrence v. Texas “effectively decree[d] the end of all morals legislation,” indicating this would not stand up in court. 

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    Washington

    Playing online poker is illegal in Washington State. A Senate Committee met in January 2017 to discuss legalizing the game online, and a bill is expected to be introduced this year.

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    West Virginia

    Ferrets cannot be used to hunt, pursue, take, kill, catch or injure wild animals. Those caught breaking this law may face a $100 fine.

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    Wisconsin

    Selling home-baked goods was only recently still illegal in Wisconsin, and committing this crime resulted in hefty fines and prison time. The law was overturned after a successful lawsuit in 2016.

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    Wyoming

    It is a class A misdemeanor to enter a mine or sawmill while intoxicated. Hunting while inebriated is also illegal—though these just seem like smart safety precautions.

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