Flouting the Law


What happens when a person’s common sense view of justice diverges from the sense of justice he or she sees enshrined in particular laws? In particular, does the perception of one particular law as unjust make an individual less likely to comply with unrelated laws? This Article advances the Flouting Thesis – the idea that the perceived legitimacy of one law can influence one’s willingness to comply with unrelated laws – and provides original experimental evidence to support this thesis. This Article presents new, original evidence that one’s willingness to disobey the law can extend far beyond the particular unjust law in question, to the flouting of unrelated laws commonly encountered in everyday life (such as traffic violations, petty theft, and copyright restrictions). A second experiment demonstrated that when exposure to a perceived unjust outcome made gender salient by highlighting an instance in which the law fails to punish a male perpetrator involved in a crime of violence against a female victim, the relationship between perceived injustice and compliance was affected by group identity. Finally, the Article explores the relationship between perceived injustice and flouting and offers several possible explanations, including the role of law in American popular culture, and the expressive function of the law in producing compliance.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law and Psychology

Date of this Version

August 2004