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18 Things You Think Are Illegal but Aren’t

It may come as a surprise, but all of these things are legal in the U.S., at least in some parts.

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Old shovel with wooden handle digging into the dirtaswphotos134/Shutterstock

Backyard burials

In most states, it’s perfectly legal to bury your loved ones right in your backyard. Just be sure to pay attention to zoning laws (for example, laws which say how close to a body of water a burial may take place), and it’s always a good idea to consult a specialist. Here are the strangest things found in homes after new homeowners moved in.

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Memory foam mattressIvelin/Shutterstock

Removing that mattress tag

Bought a mattress? Go ahead, and remove that mattress tag. It’s not illegal. The tag is there for commerce purposes. Its removal is illegal only before purchase by the consumer.

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Interior view of car with black salonSergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Driving naked

If you want to get behind the wheel of your car buck naked, that’s your prerogative. It’s totally legal. There is one hitch, however; getting in and out of the car could cause you legal problems. If someone sees you (and complains), you could be prosecuted for public lewdness. These are the things you should never do while driving.

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20 Things You Think Are Illegal but Aren'tAPISITH/Shutterstock

Recording a conversation

In one-party consent states, such as New York, you can legally record a conversation with someone who has no idea you’re recording the conversation. For the most part, all states are one-party consent states, except for these 10: California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Connecticut and Nevada are “mixed” consent states, where the consent laws vary by situation. Plus, depending on where you live, it may be illegal for you to warm up your car.

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Squirrel monkey home pet (not in wildlife)Ksenia Lev/Shutterstock

Having a monkey for a pet

Ross had one on Friends, so maybe you thought you too could keep a monkey as a pet. The thing about Friends, though—it’s fictional. In real life, you can’t have a pet monkey anywhere in New York, Alaska, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, and Vermont. That said, good news for wanna-be monkey parents: It’s legal in all the 38 other states. In fact, in Oregon, you can have a monkey as a service animal, should your needs require it. These pet projects will show your pet some love.

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Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur tiger.Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

Owning other exotic animals

Think you can’t have a bear for a pet? You’re wrong if you live in Massachusetts, where you can legally purchase your very own living, breathing Teddy. Want a pet giraffe? You can have one in Florida. Pet tiger? You can have one in Delaware, as long as you obtain a license. Pet cheetah? Pet lion? Oklahoma is fine with both, according to Plus, here’s the low-down on the pampered royal pets.

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Fat-free chips made with Olestra

Back in the 1990s, Proctor & Gamble came out with a fat substitute called Olestra (also known as Olean), and for a while, people ate it up in products like WOW potato chips by Frito Lay. It fell out of favor once people started realizing their frequent trips to the bathroom seemed to happen soon after ingesting these fat-free treats. For a while, the FDA required warning labels on Olestra-containing foods, but not since 2003. Still fully legal in the U.S., Olestra is banned in Canada and all the countries in the European Union. Here are 9 more U.S. ingredients that are banned in other countries. Plus, it’s illegal to throw away these 8 things.

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Jasmine rice in wooden bowl with wood ladle on old wood background, Dark tone, Copy spaceNatacha_S/Shutterstock

Foods containing arsenic

Arsenic is one of the World Health Organization’s top ten chemicals of “major health concern.” “Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease,” reports the FDA. The FDA has released statements about the presence of arsenic in rice, apples, and all organic fruits. But unlike the countries of the European Union, the U.S. has no ban on arsenic in our food. Find out the strangest driving law in every state.

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Cute baby drinking milk from a bottle in a baby walker, happily and relaxes in the garden,Important part of the gallery/Shutterstock

Baby walkers

A baby walker is a seemingly adorable wheeled device that allows an infant to “stand upright” and “walk” by fluttering their tiny feet on the floor. But some medical experts believe they impair baby’s development, and some go so far as to call them dangerous (since they can help a baby go to places they shouldn’t be, like the top of a staircase). Baby walkers are banned in Canada, but they’re legal here in United States pretty much across the board.  Keep your baby or toddler safe with these high-tech baby proof devices using the latest technology.

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Hand holding a ruler on white backgroundBonNontawat/Shutterstock

Spanking in school

Any kind of physical force used as a means of discipline (slapping, spanking, paddling, etc.) is known legally as “corporal punishment.” If you were never spanked in school, perhaps it’s because you grew up in New Jersey, where corporal punishment in schools has been illegal since 1867. However, corporal punishment is permitted in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

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Child being punished.MPIX/Shutterstock

Spanking at home

Spanking in school is legal in many states, but spanking at home is legal in all states. So is kicking, slapping, and whipping, as long as it’s considered “reasonable discipline” by a parent or caretaker. What is reasonable discipline? That’s determined by case law, so if you’re accused of “child abuse” when you thought you were engaging in “reasonable discipline,” your local judge will get to decide what’s reasonable and what isn’t.

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Gold wedding ringsKazin Sergey/Shutterstock

Marrying your cousin

Although some view it with a negative stigma, the fact is you can marry your cousin in every state in the United States. The only issue is which cousin. At least 34 states go so far as to allow you to marry your first cousin, which is your aunt/uncle’s kid. That being said, some states in which marriage between first cousins is permitted only permit it under certain circumstances (as in Arizona, where the couple must be over 65 years of age or in West Virginia, where only adopted first cousins are allowed to wed). Check out these 13 marriage laws you might be breaking right now.

Here’s our expert guide for completing a home renovation with out getting a divorce.

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beer fridgeOliver Tindall/Shutterstock

Drinking booze…even if you’re under-age

The minimum age for legally drinking alcohol is 21 in all 50 states, but there are loopholes in all but five (those are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia). For instance, there are:

  • 29 states where minors can drink legally on private property with parental presence and consent
  • 6 states where minors can drink on private property without parental presence and consent
  • 25 states where minors can drink for religious reasons
  • 16 states where minors can drink for medical reasons
  • 11 states where minors can drink for educational purposes (think: culinary school)

Don’t miss these 7 everyday things you didn’t know were illegal.

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Car leather seatsEnsuper/Shutterstock

Sleeping in your car

In at least 14 states, it’s perfectly legal to sleep in your car at a rest stop (you’d think it would be more, right?). But it’s not really illegal to sleep in your car anywhere, unless your car is parked illegally or if you’re too drunk to be driving (if your blood alcohol content is above the legal limit, you should not be in your car at all). These car hacks will instantly improve your driving experience.

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Automatic gear stick inside modern sport car. Luxury and expensive concept.Thanakrit Pongprawat/Shutterstock

Driving while drowsy

One-third of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by over-tired drivers. However, it’s not illegal to drive a car while drowsy except in New Jersey and Arkansas. And most states that have attempted to put such a law on the books have failed thus far.

Get your vehicle looking like new with these 36 simple interior and exterior car detailing tips that you can do yourself.

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Overhead view of surgical instrumentsDmitry Zimin/Shutterstock

Performing surgery without having slept

One would hope a surgeon had a good night’s sleep before opening anyone up on an operating table. Unfortunately, despite widespread knowledge of how sleep deprivation impairs cognitive performance and motor skills, there’s no law that says a surgeon must have had a good night’s sleep or even any opportunity to sleep before performing surgery.

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Handed wedding bouquet with roses and eucalyptus greenery. ALICIA GARSIDE/Shutterstock

Marrying your step-sibling

It may seem like a taboo, and certainly society tends to frown upon step-sibling relationships, the fact remains if you want to marry your stepbrother or stepsister, there is no U.S. law prohibiting it.

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Going topless

In most U.S. states, it is just as legal for a woman to go topless as it is for a man. Notable exceptions include Indiana, Tennessee, and Utah. Some local laws ban female breast-baring, and police officers in some municipalities will arrest topless women for “disorderly conduct,” however such laws and such arrests are not likely to stand judicial/constitutional scrutiny.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.

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