What is “The Fullest Extent of the Law?”

It’s a phrase we’ve seen a million times before, “violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Warning signs hoping to deter others from loitering, trespassing, waste dumping or any number of mixed legality acts almost always end with this phrase. While it may never be spoken aloud, this phrase also works its ways into courtrooms around the world. If it sounds intimidating, then it’s working.

What does it mean? That is where it gets tricky, because the subtext has more to say than the literal definition. At face value it means that a person will have as much legal action taken against them by the plaintiff as is constitutionally allowed. Maximum penalties will be sought and the case will go to court should a judge allow it.

But why would a plaintiff want to go to trial over something like a loitering defendant? This is where the subtext comes in. It’s about the punishment. When one individual or establishment guarantees prosecution to the fullest extent of the law the message is that they’re seeking punishment. Every possible charge or condition of the issue will be used until any level (although maximum is preferred) of penalty is placed on the defendant. It’s another way of saying “don’t do that or you’ll be sorry.”

Examples of this would be if a trespasser can be connected to vandalism, perhaps also carrying a pocket knife. Regardless of why they were there, their intention of the knife or if they even committed vandalism, the plaintiff will pick it apart. They made a justifiable plea that they were unaware they were trespassing? Well why did they have cans of spray paint? Maybe they’re one of the vandals who has been putting graffiti on our property. Are they legally allowed to carry that pocket knife? Every possible charge will be explored until a judge lets something stick.

Prosecuting a criminal to the fullest extent, whether it’s standing around too long without purpose or shoplifting, is sort of an old school approach to solving issues. It belongs to the belief that all wrongdoers deserve the worst that’s coming to them to match the expectations set by others. Whether it’s to prevent loss of money (theft), unnecessary work (removing illegal waste) or that they want a specific area empty for safety reasons (loitering) it’s to deter an act or make them never consider doing it again.
These cases can sometimes be very unfair to the defendant. A simple mistake or misjudgement may be overshadowed with an exorbitant punishment. If you or a loved one are facing a situation where a plaintiff will stop at nothing to convict, contact a qualified lawyer immediately to start building a defense.