Prima Facie Obligation Example: Obeying the Law

Instructor: Ryan Futo
What is Prima Facie? In law enforcement, you may hear that you have a prima facie duty, a duty to obey the law or else face the consequences. In this lesson, you will learn what prima facie is and how prima facie will help you in both your professional and personal growth.

What is Prima Facie?

Prima facie comes from the Latin term meaning 'at first look.' Have you ever heard the phrase 'caught red-handed' or 'I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar'? Both of these concepts are prima facie. In the context of law enforcement, you have probably seen a video on the news of a bank robbery suspect. It is prima facie evidence or 'at first look' that the person in the video, when identified, is the person who committed the crime. You can now begin to see how prima facie evidence can make a slam dunk case for law enforcement officers.

How Can Understanding Prima Facie Make You a Better Officer?

Let's take a look at this simple example of breaking the law: Every time you get in your car and drive, there is a certain posted speed limit; for example, 20 miles per hour in a school zone. You may think 20 mph seems really slow, but if you disobey the law and are stopped by a police officer who caught you on his radar going 30 miles per hour, it becomes prima facie evidence that you broke the law. The speed limit is 20 mph and you know this, but you intentionally exceeded the posted limit. Now, you may have made an honest mistake (maybe you thought school was out for the summer already), but it is your responsibility when you get behind the wheel to know what the speed limit is at all times. At face value, mistake or not, you are charged with the crime of speeding. If you decide to contest this in court, the officer will use the prima facie evidence that at the time of the violation, the speed limit was twenty miles per hour, and the reading on his/her radar showed you were driving at thirty miles per hour. By merely obeying the law, you would not have found yourself facing prima facie evidence.

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