We’ve all heard of bizarre old laws that have managed to stay on the books decades and even centuries after they are relevant. You know the kind: Doughnut holes were once illegal in Leigh, Nebraska, and in order for a cucumber to be legally designated a pickle in Connecticut, it must bounce.
Whatever inspired the law is long gone, but because no one has bothered to go back and clean up the books, these ridiculous offenses could technically still get you arrested—which actually happened in at least one case.
In 1998, Timothy Boomer was canoeing on the Rifle River in Michigan when he took a tumble. Boomer let loose a string of curse words, as one might do when suddenly dumped into freezing cold water.
Unfortunately for Boomer, in 1897 Michigan passed a law making it illegal to curse around the delicate ears of women and children. When the canoeist spewed his shocking string of swear words, a mother and her two kids happened to be within earshot. An officer ticketed him, and when he went to court over the matter, a jury actually convicted him: Boomer was fined $75 and sentenced to four days of community service, though the offense carried a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail.
Luckily for Boomer, cooler heads eventually prevailed when he appealed his sentence. Michigan’s Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2002, with Judge William Murphy writing:
Allowing a prosecution where one utters ‘insulting’ language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction. We find it unquestionable that [the law], as drafted, reaches constitutionally protected speech, and it operates to inhibit the exercise of First Amendment rights.
Boomer may have gotten off, but let this be a lesson to all of us: If you’re trying to pass off an unbounceable pickle in Connecticut, expect to pay the consequences.