Random Things You Probably Think Are Illegal But Actually Aren’t

It may come as a total surprise, but did you know underage drinking actually isn’t illegal (at least a small percentage of the time)? What if we told you that you probably won’t get pulled over for meandering down the highway in a military tank unless you’re speeding? America’s legal system is filled with some utterly bizarre loopholes. And there are a whole bunch of laws we consistently insist exist that actually don’t. Can a 16-year-old really buy a ticket to an R-rated movie? Would we really not be arrested for walking around Times Square without a shirt on? Sorry to burst your bubble, but these surprising things aren’t illegal. This is the land of the free after all, right?

Having A Pet Monkey

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In Friends, Ross had Marcel and made all of us want a pet monkey. The cute little primate ultimately ended up getting written off the series because David Schwimmer couldn’t stand him (and that’s coming from the dude who played the sitcom’s arguably worst character). Schwimmer went so far as telling Entertainment Weekly “I wish it were dead,” which makes us totally think he was the one who should have been written off.

As much as Schwimmer hated his pet monkey, it wasn’t actually illegal to own one of them in 38 states. You can even have a pet monkey as a service animal if you happen to live in Oregon. Unfortunately for the Friends cast, the pet is strictly forbidden in New York.

Underage Drinking

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Yes, you have to be 21 to legally consume alcohol in all 50 states, but most states have some very specific loopholes. In 29 states, minors can legally drink on private property as long as their parents consent and are keeping an eye on them. In six states, a minor can drink on private property even if their parents don’t consent. In 25 states, minors can drink for religious reasons (though church wine doesn’t taste that great. Be forewarned). In 16 states, minors can drink for medical reasons (what issues require you to drink alcohol? Who knows). In 11 states, minors can drink for educational purposes (i.e. if they’re training to be a sommelier or going to culinary school).

The only five states that don’t have any loopholes are: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. To be honest, no one wanted them at the party anyway.

Police Officers Not Identifying Themselves

Joint Base San Antonio / Benjamin Faske

We really, really hope you don’t hinge your innocence on simply asking a cop if they’re a cop. You’re absolutely going to get burned (and honestly deserve it). This idea is perpetuated by movies: if you’re doing some kind of shady drug deal and ask a suspected cop if he’s a cop before taking the money, he has to tell you, “Yup, I’m a cop.” Then, you can walk away, free to deal more drugs to everyone else who isn’t undercover.

In the Land of the Free, that’s not at all how this works. A cop doesn’t have to reveal himself just because you ask — even if you ask really nicely. Obviously, undercover operations hinge on criminals not knowing cops are cops. Law enforcement wouldn’t get much done if criminals could just ask if they’re undercover.

Going Topless In Public


In most states, you’re not getting in trouble for letting your girls take a breath of fresh air. Just think of all the people who aren’t arrested during Mardi Gras? You have to rack up your beads somehow.

Taking off your top in public isn’t illegal but it’ll definitely cause some scrutiny (and more than a few stares). Even feeding a baby in public tends to bring out the pearl-clutchers, who clearly haven’t realized that infants need to eat when they need to eat. Though most places don’t have laws preventing women from going topless, posting a picture of said topless activity might get banned from a social network or two.

Is going topless less of a crime than being a teen at an R-rated movie? Click through to find out.

Buying A Ticket To An R-Rated Movie If You’re Under 17

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Raise your hand if you were ever a teenager trying to convince random adults to buy you a ticket to the newest Saw or Hostel flick. Contrary to popular belief, neither you nor the adult who illegally bought you that ticket could get into any trouble with the law, but they might get banned from the theater. In fact, movies don’t even legally need to be rated to have a theatrical release.

The Motion Picture Association of America was created in 1968, and instilled ratings that act as age suggestions on films, but that’s all they are: suggestions. Theaters aren’t legally required to make sure pesky teens stay out of Eli Roth films, but a few states do have laws about showing obscene material to minors.

Playing Poker For Cash Outside Of A Casino

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Most of us have vaguely heard that it’s illegal to gamble for money outside of a casino. This counts for gambling at home or rolling a pair of dice with your friends, right? Wrong. Gambling for cash isn’t actually illegal in most states, but you might wish it was when your BFF hustles you out of your lunch money.

In about half of all states, there’s a gambling law exemption that lets players casually play with their buddies in the comfort of their own home as long as the house doesn’t take a cut. The people playing are the only ones allowed to make a profit.

Owning A Tank

In America, we’ve got the right to bear arms, and the type of arms aren’t always specified. Depending on the state, those arms may very well be a tank (okay, a tank without a functioning cannon, but what a cool whip nonetheless).

To be clear: just because you can own a tank doesn’t mean you should. It’s a lot less fun than it sounds. First off, they can cost around $40,000. You probably need to obtain a permit depending on the state, and you’re also required to get the cannon deactivated. Even after that, you can’t just drive it around whenever you want, and we’re not experts, but it seems complicated to drive. It’s just something to keep in mind in case The Purge ever becomes a reality.

Owning A Machine Gun

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If you can own a tank, why wouldn’t you be able to own a machine gun? The second amendment has some pretty terrifying loopholes, and that includes the ability to own a machine gun when you’re not in the police or military. Actually, the second amendment doesn’t specify which firearms are legal in the first place.

When it comes down to it, all machine guns aren’t legal (which is definitely for the best). The ones that are had to be made before May 19, 1986, when a provision banning fully automatic weapons was added to the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act. If it was manufactured before 1986, you’re free to play around at the gun rage; however, the rarity of these makes them pretty expensive.

Vandalizing Money

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Everyone’s heard the old wives’ tale that claims it’s absolutely illegal to take a Sharpie and write on a dollar bill. That’s completely false. The government couldn’t care less if you write a note on your $5 note — you just have to make sure the numerical value can be identified.

Messing with bills isn’t always legal, though. Take the famed street artist Banksy. In the early 2000s, he circulated around £100,000,000 of fake £10s which commemorated Princess Diana’s death. They were so convincing he realized his prank bordered on forgery, and had to stop immediately in his tracks or face some serious jail time. Yikes.

Having More Than One Free Phone Call

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We’ve all heard of the one phone call you get in jail — and the person on the other line better answer or you’re going to rot without bail, or at least till the police call your emergency contact to pick you up. In real life, this doesn’t exist. Like, at all.

According to law, police are required to give you as many phone calls as you need to contact your lawyer. No, you won’t be able to chat with your mom as she scolds you for winding up in the slammer, but you will be able to speak to an attorney, who can (hopefully) get you out of there as fast as possible.

If you ever wanted to fake your own death and start a new life somewhere else, we’ve got good news.

Riding In The Back Of A Pickup Truck

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Seat belt laws are pretty serious in the U.S., but somehow, riding in the back of a pickup truck is legal in many places. What exactly that entails totally depends. Some states require the bed to be enclosed, while others allow a joyride with the wind in your hair. Some states ban it all together, while others only allow it for riders over the 18 or certain workers and employees. In some states, you don’t even actually have to be seated (though this seems wholly unwise).

If you don’t follow the exact laws, you’re probably going to be on the hook for some fines or even a misdemeanor. For example, pickup truck drivers in Texas are subject to misdemeanor charges if they have a rider under the age of 18 in the truck’s bed.

Faking Your Death

Credit: FX / American Horror Story

Have you ever wanted to pull a Huckleberry Finn and check out your own funeral? As it turns out, faking your death isn’t actually illegal, at least not typically.

Though you can fake your death to your heart’s content — whether you’re playing a really, really mean trick on your Facebook friends or joining the Witness Protection Program — it’s illegal to collect any life insurance. You also can’t fake your death to get out paying bills. In other words, those student loans will follow you longer than anyone posting nice memories on Facebook. Depending on the type student loan, you’re still on the hook if you actually do kick the bucket, anyway.

Buying Cannabis Seeds

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What’s the point of buying cannabis seeds if you can’t actually grow cannabis plants? You’d have to ask the United Kingdom. In the UK, it’s totally legal to buy cannabis seeds, but it’s absolutely illegal to germinate them and grow a cannabis plant.

Here in the States, the rules are much more of a gray area and vary from state to state. For example, Washington D.C. residents over the age of 21 can purchase one ounce of seeds and grow three mature marijuana plants. Marijuana seeds can also be purchased online in some cases — like as fishing bait additives or luxury bird food — but not in others.

Being Seen Naked In Your Own Home

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Who hasn’t taken off their clothes after a long day of work and hung out in the buff? Let’s be real, we’re not joining a nudist colony anytime soon, but the freedom feels pretty good. Contrary to popular belief, walking naked around your property doesn’t usually count as indecent exposure, even if you’re in full view of a neighbor.

What is illegal? Being visible from a public place. Your neighbor’s backyard doesn’t typically count, but a business, a public street or school absolutely does. So feel free to go skinny dipping in your backyard, but it’s not advisable to go nude tanning out front. You also can’t be intentionally flashing your neighbors because that crosses over into sexual harassment, which is absolutely illegal.

You might not be able to hide a body, but you can do this.

Owning Exotic Pets

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Owning exotic pets is ill-advised in more ways than one — but none of those ways have to do with the law, depending on the state you’re in. Residents of Oklahoma are free to own a pet lion or cheetah (though, don’t complain when it mauls off your face). With the proper license, those residing in Delaware can have a pet lion, and those residing in Florida can have a giraffe (though, we’re not sure where you’d put it).

So why not own a backyard zoo or cuddle up to a lion cub while watching Netflix? Wild animals generally need more space and care than an average human being can give them. Don’t be cruel. Get a dog instead.


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The FDA claims that “Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease.” But this is America, where we can eat our rat poison and lace it with bowel-churning Olestra. Somehow, arsenic isn’t fully banned in foods, and the FDA has released statements about trace amounts of the chemical being found in rice, apples and every organic fruit. Yes, all of them.

In the European Union, arsenic is banned in foods for human consumption, but in the States you can pick between GMOs in non-organic fruit (which may or may not cause cancer) or arsenic (which definitely does). With so many great options, how do we choose?

Marrying Your Cousin

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They call it “kissing cousins” for a reason — and you’re not going to like that reason. Though your stomach may turn at the idea of making out with your blood relative, it’s perfectly legal to marry your cousin in 11 U.S. states. It’s as easy as any other marriage and all you’ve got to do is obtain a marriage license.

In America, marrying a cousin is undeniably taboo and it’s illegal in Asia. That’s not the case for certain parts of the Middle East, where the practice is actually pretty common. Can we all just agree that in-laws are bad enough without them also being your aunts and uncles. Let’s just put this one to rest, okay?

Corporal Punishment

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Anyone who’s ever heard a harrowing story from their parents about being slapped across the hand with a ruler in Catholic school knows corporal punishment used to be legal. But those were the good old days, which inadvertently, seem not so great considering they had corporal punishment and no WiFi. As it turns out, the world hasn’t progressed as much as you might think.

Physical force used as a means of discipline (including spanking, slapping and paddling) is still not illegal in many U.S. states. In New Jersey, the practice was banned in schools in 1867, but the same can’t be said for Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Aren’t you glad you behaved in school?

Backyard Burials

Credit: Netflix / The Haunting of Hill House

Most of us think that bodies have to be buried in graveyards. But apparently, that’s not always the case. Why spring for an expensive plot in a graveyard when you could have a good old backyard burial?

Okay, so you can’t hide a body in your backyard, but you can totally bury a loved one. It just depends on the zoning laws because you can’t bury a body too close to water (that means your New Orleans backyard burial is probably out).