In the US (and I assume elsewhere), ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. This applies to everything. If an official tells you the wrong information, it is your fault and you will face charges, fines, etc.
Let me give you an example that lots of US citizens sweat over each year. Income Tax.
In January we begin receiving various forms that are relevant to our tax preparation. If we fail to get a form from something that happened in the previous year (say, for example, we went to Las Vegas in February and won more than $500. The casino forgets to file or loses your form or the mail loses it. You are still held responsible for that.
If you don’t report it, even though it may never have been reported to the IRS, then you can be held liable for tax fraud.
If you go to a professional preparer of tax returns, then you are held responsible for any mistakes they might make. Not them.
So, just out of curiosity, I went and downloaded the US Code that applies to Internal Revenue (section 26 PDF). It’s a 13 Megabyte PDF. Section of the code 1 – 5000 apply to individuals and sections 6000 – 7800 apply to how taxes are collected, enforced, and crimes related to them. This is a very rough estimate from the Table of Contents. There aren’t actually 5000 sections. Plus some of the sections have been repealed.
Further, this code is revised almost every year.
Let me give an example from the code. Section 127 covers employer education assistance programs. Basically, if your employer pays for your school, then it’s not included in your gross income.
There are two pages of rules, two pages of amendments, and two pages of what happens on certain dates, effective dates of certain amendments, special rules for certain years, enforcement and other regulations.
So, if your employer pays for a class, you are expected to know and, more critically, understand, that section of the rules.
Even in our information age, that’s unreasonable. There are experts in tax law that spend their entire lives studying this single title of the US code (and some related sections in other titles, I’m sure).
Now, apply that to every single US and state (and international) law that somehow impacts you and your life on a daily basis. You are expected to be knowledgeable about every single aspect of them, because ignorance is not a defense.
I just spent the last 30 minutes searching for some truly silly laws, that many people very well may be breaking. The results are pretty staggering and it’s difficult to verify them without reading the entire code of the state. For example, it’s apparently illegal in Alabama to hunt, shoot, or play games on Sunday. That seems like an old law, but trudging through the state code to verify it is beyond me right now.
Suffice to say that you are still responsible for knowing all applicable laws in your country, state, county, city, and community. For example, while the city I live in does not have a leash law, the community I live in does. So someone who drives through my community with a dog in the back of their truck (without a leash) is breaking the law.
Here’s an example of a person who may have been committing voter fraud for the last 40 years, but no one (including all of the government officials he dealt with over 40 years) knew it. But it’s still possible he could go to jail.
I don’t know.
I sure don’t like the idea of “ignorance of the law” being an excuse to get out of trouble, but how can anyone know every single law that may apply to them and interpret it correctly? It’s not reasonable anymore.