An unenforced law (also symbolic law) is a law which is formally in effect (de jure), but is usually (de facto) not penalized by a jurisdiction. Such laws are usually ignored by law enforcement, and therefore there are few or no practical consequences for breaking them. The existence of unenforced laws has been criticized for undermining the legal system in general, as such laws may be selectively enforced.
Unenforced laws may be enacted purely for symbolic reasons, with little or no intention of enforcement. There are also circumstances in which an otherwise enforced law is not; for example, speeding in a motor vehicle is illegal in most jurisdictions, however law enforcement may choose to ignore motorists who only slightly exceed the legal speed limit. Automated traffic enforcement cameras may still issue fines in these circumstances in some jurisdictions.
Symbolic laws typically attempt to persuade rather than enforce, punish or prevent. For example, until the relevant statute was repealed in 2013, adultery was prohibited by law in the US state of Colorado but no criminal penalty was specified. In Maryland adultery is prohibited, however the statutory criminal penalty is limited to a $10 fine.
- Modern criminal law; Wayne R. LaFave; P 53
- Fieschi, Catherine (2006-02-26). "Symbolic laws". Prospect Magazine. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
- The legal system: a social science perspective retrieved 29 January 2012
- "Speed Limits - List of the Speed Limits on per Country Basis". www.rhinocarhire.com. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
- Law Without Values: The Life, Work, and Legacy of Justice Holmes retrieved 29 January 2012
- AlpertAugust 2, David; 2012 202. "What is the right level for speed camera fines?". ggwash.org. Retrieved 2021-02-01.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- "Geschwisterpaar bringt Inzest-Verbot ins Wanken" (in German). 22 May 2011.
- Law as symbolic form Deniz Coskun
- Press, The Associated (2013-03-22). "Bill to repeal of Colorado adultery law signed". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
- "Crimes Against Marriage | The Maryland People's Law Library". www.peoples-law.org. Retrieved 2021-04-26.