1. Crossdressing to take your friend’s high school exam
Deandre Ellis dressed as a girl and took the Regent’s Exam for someone else. NJ police charged him for tresspassing, forgery and third degree burglary. At one point, he was facing up to seven years in prison for this stunt.
2. Owning more than two dildos in Arizona (or six in Texas)
In Texas, owning more than 6 dildos signals an “intention to distribute obscene devices” and can be a felony charge with a prison sentence of up to one year. In Arizona, the limit is two.
3. Wearing a red mask while committing misdemeanors in Arizona
In Arizona, any misdemeanor charge is automatically upgraded to a felony if you’re wearing a red mask. This is more of a rarely-enforced bluebook holdover from AZ’s frontier days, but thanks again, Arizona. While we’re on the topic, cactus theft of certain species can run you up to a class four felony.
4. Having oral sex in Georgia’s high schools
As a high school senior, Genarlow Wilson fielded recruitment calls from Columbia and Brown University. But at age 17, he found himself facing 10 years in prison for receiving oral sex at a party. Judges and the female sophomore agreed that he didn’t initiate the encounter, but since Genarlow had just passed legal age, he could be persecuted under Georgia’s archaic, flawed sex laws (it somehow would’ve only been a misdemeanor had they had full intercourse). Useful to remember: before 1998, oral sex between anyone in Georgia was grounds for 20 years behind bars. The legal loophole has since been closed, but not before other Americans (Wendy Whitaker, pictured right) have also been imprisoned and marked as a sex offender for getting frisky on Southern school grounds.
5. Improperly remodelling old asbestos buildings
DIY home refurbishers, don’t be dumb about this: every year, people are arrested for improperly demolishing buildings with cancer-causing asbestos. Even having a parcel of asbestos debris fall off the back of your truck can be a felony. In Turlock, California, a construction training program led inner-city students in demolishing an old navy structure. Programs directors were convicted of RCRA pollution and child endangerment felonies and now the 80 children are at higher risks of lung cancer. A sad story all around.
6. Joking about having a bomb in your luggage
When a Southwest Airlines flight attendant asked this 75 year old man about the luggage near his seat, he joked that there was a bomb in it. Bad idea bears. He was then held on a $50,000 bail and almost faced seven years in prison.
7. Being too poor to pay court fines
Say you’re unemployed and were slapped with a $179 speeding ticket, which you of course can’t afford. Welcome to 40 days in jail, and another $2,991 in jail “boarding fees” to your for-profit probation company. The exact legal phrasing may refer more to defying court or contempt of law, but failing to pay fines continues to land many low-income Americans in jail.
8. Checking your spouses’ mail/email
Leon Walker suspected his wife of cheating, so he logged onto her Gmail on their shared laptop. His wife divorced him, then lobbed at him felony hacking laws originally meant to protect credit card identity and trade secrets. Michigan courts apparently considered that sufficient grounds to consider up to 5 years imprisonment for him.
9. Being baited into buying weed by undercover cops
Eighteen-year-old honors student Justin Laboy was smitten with a female cop posing as his classmate. They flirted via texting over the next weeks, and she asked if he could score weed for her. Having never smoked before, Justin had trouble finding a dealer. When he finally scored a gram, she tried giving him $25, but Justin insisted it was a present. Days later, Florida police arrested 31 students – Justin included – and slapped them all with felonies, making it impossible for Justin to pursue his plan of joining the Air Force.
10. Getting stopped and frisked
Aggressive pedestrian search tactics have an enormous by-catch of 50,000-a-year petty marijuana possession arrests for mostly young, low-income black and latino residents. Remember #6? What happens when you can’t afford court fines?
11. Living in a high-conviction neighborhood
Sometimes the cops coerce and confuse teenagers into signing confessions without telling them that they’re charged for murder. If you’re one of these false arrests, sometimes you won’t be released even after the actual murderers/criminals turn themselves in and testify for your innocence. Proven innocent decades later, 40% of wrongful convicted prisoners get no compensation when they’re finally exonerated.