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A weekly show where we debunk common misconceptions. This week, Elliott discusses some misconceptions about the law!

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Hi there, I'm Elliot Morgan, and this is Mental Floss on YouTube. Today I'm going to talk about some misconceptions about United States policies and laws. 


Misconception number one: Undercover police officers must identify themselves if asked. For a long time a rumor has persisted that if a prostitute or, like, another criminal asks an undercover police officer "Hey, are you a cop?", then that officer has to be honest. In fact there's actually no  law that states an undercover police officer must always tell the truth. People generally believe this because they think officers might be guilty of entrapment if they don't identify themselves. Entrapment, by the way, is when a law enforcement officer gets someone to commit a crime that they probably wouldn't have done on their own. But, police officers failing to identify themselves while undercover is not against the law. 

Misconception number two: You must wait 24 hours to file a missing person's report. No! This is a lie that you've probably heard on TV many, many times, and there's definitely no law or regulation supporting this. In fact, police stations like to know as soon as possible when someone has gone missing, especially if that someone is a minor. And even when they're not a minor. Like, we'll find the adults too, I guess.

Misconception number three: You need someone's permission to legally film them in public. If you are on public property you have the right to photograph your surroundings; including people, thanks to the first amendment. There are some exceptions, like, the U.S. Department of Energy has the right to prevent you from photographing nuclear facilities; or, if you're standing on public property, but taking pictures of people on private property, which is called being a creeper. And photographs in places like bathrooms and doctor's offices can get you in trouble too. Because why, why would you do that?

Speaking of the first amendment, misconception number four: The concept of free speech without consequences applies anywhere in the U.S. The first amendment means that the government doesn't have the right to censor you, and even then there are exceptions. Like you're not supposed to yell fire in a crowded theater. But if you're in school or on a website those places can regulate what you're allowed to say and do. And if you do those things anyway, the argument of free speech will probably not get you very far. I'm looking at you, YouTube comments. Yeah, I'm down there. Waiting. Not really. For example in 2007 there was a U.S. Supreme Court Case in which a high school principal suspended a student who held up a banner across the street from the school that said 'Bong hits for Jesus'. The students sued, claiming free speech, but the Supreme Courts decided with the principal. And against Jesus. That was a rough time in my life, but I don't regret anything. 

Misconception number five: The Miranda rights are read to you when you're arrested. If you are arrested, and I hope you're not, the police officer does not have to read the Miranda warning to you. The Miranda warning, by the way, is the thing you hear police officers on TV say all the time. 'You have the right to remain silent, anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law' and so on. In reality an officer only needs to read those right to a person who was arrested and is about to be questioned.  Not every arrest requires that.

Misconception number six:  The drinking age is a federal law. Actually each individual state requires you to be 21 to purchase alcohol. The 21st amendment gave states the power to regulate alcohol; but states do get significant pressure from the federal government to uphold the standard drinking age. For example, the national minimum drinking age Act of 1984 subtracted ten percent of highway funding from states that let people under the age of 21 drink alcohol.  'Cause what are they going to do? Not get their highway funding? Come on.

Alright, let's finish up with a few things that you might think are illegal, but they actually aren't.

 Misconception number seven: Drawing on a dollar bill is illegal. It's illegal to do things like mutilate, cut, or deface U.S. currency but only if you're intending to render it "unfit to be reused". So if you're destroying the money or trying to make it look like it's worth a higher value than it is, AKA lying, you're in trouble. But you're not going to get arrested for doodling Bong hits for Jesus on the side of a bill. That's not a suggestion, just an example.

Misconception number eight: Driving barefoot is illegal. OK, its not illegal in any state, although many recommend that you don't do it anyway because the pedals can be slippery. And you can get in trouble if being barefoot contributes to reckless or negligent driving.

Misconception number nine, my favorite: Counting cards in casinos is illegal. You can legally count cards while playing Black Jack in any state, but most casinos will kick you out, or even ban you from doing it. One exception is New Jersey, where the state Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that casinos could not kick players out for being skilled or "counting cards". So I guess we know where Ben Affleck is going on his next vacation. Jersey.

Misconception number ten: Flamethrowers are illegal. Uh, there's actually no federal law that regulates the ownership of a flamethrower, although it does vary from state to state. There actually allowed in most states but some place restrictions on it, like California which requires a license. And if you have a flame throwing license let me know because you're the coolest person I've ever met. And even in California, where they don't care about anything, if you're caught with an unlicensed flamethrower it is a misdemeanor with a maximum of 1 year in prison.

Thank you so much for watching Misconceptions on Mental Floss on YouTube, which was made with the help of all of these wonderful people. If you have a topic for an upcoming misconceptions episode that you would like to see, leave them in the comments, and I'll check 'em out, and I'll see you next week.