Mopery

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Eugene Volokh points out the WordSmith word of the day: mopery. He's a law professor, and he'd never heard of this legal term. I guess he never saw Revenge of the Nerds. I don't even remember the context, and I'm not even sure of the sketchy details that follow, but I think someone (Booger?) had been arrested, and he described the reason as mopery. In response to the quizzical look that followed, he explained it as "exposing yourself to a blind person". I don't know if that was supposed to be the definition of the term or the description of the particular action that led to the mopery charge. If it was the former it was inaccurate, but if it was the latter it was probably correct. That may well be mopery. It's about as trivial a crime as there can be. According to Volokh, the OED definition is: "The action of committing a minor or petty offence, such as loitering, etc.; contravention of a trivial or hypothetical law, esp. when used as an excuse to harass or arrest a person against whom no more serious crime can be charged."

One reason I thought this was funny is because I just saw Fletch Lives, and one of the characters in that movie tells Fletch that he's in jail for molesting a dead horse. I've always thought of these two scenes as a pair for some reason. I wonder if it's because molesting a dead horse would be mopery as well.

10 Comments

I'll have to keep that in mind when next I am accused of beating a dead horse.

Molesting a dead horse might be mopery, but it is also a likey violation of the California Code regarding hazardous waste.

"Mopery" isn't listed in Black's Law Dictionary. Cut Mr. Volokh some slack. If a term is too arcane or obsolete for Black's, it's not a legal term any lawyer should know.

I've read through the post a few times, and I can't figure out where my supposed criticism of Professor Volokh is. I did say something to demonstrate how obscure the term is, i.e. that even a famous UCLA law professor has never heard of it. That doesn't imply anything about him except that he's not very familiar with the pop culture example that led me to know about the word (though it didn't help me know what it really means, which took me until I read Volokh's post).

I work for a company that supplies customized software to police departnments. Today I received a mockup of a new report that a highway patrol office in Texas wants. One of the example statutes listed in the mockup was: "Highway Mopery (With Intent To Gawk)".

My first guess was that this would mean "Loitering on the highway with a stupid stare on your face." (Actually, on or off the highway, I see a lot of that . . . . )

However, in this case I'm told by the police that this statute targets those looky-loo people who slow down and impede traffic on the highway whilst staring at traffic accidents or other roadside distractions.

I've always called that rubber-necking. I suspect it's more dangerous than speeding, so it's certainly worth spending time ticketing people for. I doubt it will catch on, though. It's hard to stop a whole line of people from ruining the flow of traffic when you're trying to save the lives of whoever was in the accident they're all staring at.

It's actually in the movie Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd.

How is it used, and what's the context? I can't find any references to that online.

Here is the definition that I pulled from the web. The earliest reference I can recall was from NYPD Blue in the mid 1990s and Sipowitz was bemoaning the fact that the legal establishment had overturned the "mopery laws". From the definition, I can see why.

***Mopery is a vague and obscure legal term, used in certain jurisdictions to mean "walking down the street with no clear destination or purpose". Like loitering and vagrancy laws, it can be used by law enforcement either to legitimately detain unsavory types before they have committed a clearer or more dangerous crime, or to illegitimately harass otherwise lawful citizens -- obviously an easily abused and easily challenged judgment call.***

I believe I have heard detectives on CSI NY use the term "mope" to address suspects, as in "shut up, you mope." Apparently the writers for the show have heard the term used as a reference to a suspect.

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