How far does "dirty hands" go in legal cases?

They way I understand it “dirty hands” means you cannot come into court and attempt to collect civilly from an illegal loss, I was trying to buy marijuana but got sold oregano for instance.

How far does this?

What if the illegal act was only tangential to the loss? Like waiting for a prostitute to use their services and your car gets hit?

In some places they can take your car if it was used in furtherance of a crime. So I doubt you’ll have much luck recouping anything.

Short, short answer. You can generally recover damages under two theories: 1) law or, 2) equity. Law means “the statute or prior court decisions says I get some money” and Equity means “it just ain’t fair, I should get some money.” Recovery under equity requires “clean hands” while recovery under the law doesn’t.

In your marijuana example, the law doesn’t allow recovery because the contract you have entered (purchase of marijuana) is illegal and unenforceable at law. An equitable remedy like unjust enrichment (it just ain’t fair that the drug dealer gets money for giving me oregano) fails because you have unclean hands.

If you are hit in a car waiting for a prostitute, you can recover at law. It’s against statutory and common law to hit a parked car.

In that particular circumstance, you’d be an idiot to admit that you were waiting for a prostitute. The fact of what you were doing, in that case, is irrelevant to the event that produced the legal issue. You could as easily have pulled over to take a call on your cell phone or to program your GPS.

Or to make a call. Such as to a prostitute, in order to hire her. :stuck_out_tongue:

The statement of the plaintiff is not the only evidence. One can file the lawsuit and claim he was making a cell call, but the defendant can hire a detective to establish the fact that the plaintiff was waiting for a call girl who had already been booked.

Is it still statutory if the prostitute isn’t a minor?

Okay, this raises two questions:

  1. How could anyone prove what the waiter’s intent was? Maybe he changed his mind about the call girl, and pulled over to make some unrelated call. Be it unlikely or even preposterous, it’s not impossible – how could one legally establish that he was thinking otherwise?

  2. If it could be established the waiting was indeed related to illegal activity, does that change anything? Surely if he were murdered, the killer would be prosecuted. If his car were hit, would the other driver not still be liable?

I can comfortably predict that the “fact” that the injured plaintiff was waiting for a prostitute at the time he was hit by a negligent driver would be considered irrelevant at trial and excluded based on the potential unfair prejudicial effect.

To the OP, this sometimes comes up with a plaintiff who works “under the table,” than gets hurt and wants to make a lost wage claim. It’s pretty hard to establish the pre-injury earnings if the plaintiff didn’t pay taxes. In theory, it shouldn’t matter. He earned a lot of money before, he can testify to that, but not too many juries or insurance companies are going to pay for lost illegal earnings.

Right, this is fighting the hypothetical. The point of jtgain’s example wasn’t about any actual live lawsuit, so I don’t understand why you feel the need to delve into this collateral, hypothetical issue (it’s not relevant to the OP’s request for further clarification on the equitable defense of unclean hands). Let’s get back to a more pertinent line of questioning, counselor.*

  • This is what the judge would say if you attempted to make this a big issue at trial.

Good idea. When in trouble, commit perjury. What could possibly go wrong?

So, there IS a legal theory behind the drug dealer complaining a debt was invalid because it was for a marijuana sale gone bad (got busted by the cops) that I saw on one of those Judge xyz reality show?

“Statutory” doesn’t mean “pertaining to a minor” but “pertaining to a statute”. I.e… an enacted written law, as opposed to the common law or case law. Statutory rape is rape because it’s intercourse without consent (rape) not forced but where the statute defines the person as incapable of giving adult consent (because s/he is too young). In other words it’s not the rape known to the common law, but a crime defined by statute as also a form of rape. hence statutory rape.

Absolutely. But to nitpick, it’s not that the debt is invalid, it’s just that it is a contract for illegal items. For a court to enforce such a contract would be against public policy and most (all?) won’t enforce it.

The OP’s question was about the equitable defense of unclean hands. That doesn’t apply at law when there is a statute on point or a court decision on point. If you throw your cigarette butt at my house and end up burning it down, it doesn’t matter if I’m raping young children or plotting the overthrow of the US Government inside the home. Case law clearly states that you are liable.

It’s only when you get into an area that the law doesn’t address or doesn’t allow for and I try to make an “it ain’t fair” argument does my conduct come into play.

My husband has filed an adultery case after learning that I have given birth to another baby not his. My new baby is under my new partner’s name. Prior to that, we were already separated and signed a letter (which I considered he gave me consent from doing so). We are married and not yet divorced or annulled. I decided to separate from him due due to many reasons like he had an affair with another woman and I kept their email communication. Can I still use the term (You cannot go to court with dirty hands)? Will it dismiss the file he has filed against me since he also committed the same? The only proof I have is their email communication, proving that they have really an affair.

Please help and enlighten me.



Yuna, very few here will be familiar with family law in the Philippines, so you are unlikely to get any kind of good advice here, except to go to a lawyer licensed to practice law in your country.

especially since separation and divorce/annullment in the phillipines is a legal nightmare that makes an american divorce process look as complicated as ordering a deli sandwich.

Right. Under old English Common Law, the crime of rape required lack of consent. Legislatures decided that the concept of rape needed to be extended to acts (such as intercourse with persons under an “age of consent”) that had not theretofore been considered rape.

Virginia law has an analogous concept of “Statutory Burglary” which can be committed during the daytime, as the common law specified that burglary could only be committed during the nighttime.

It is interesting, though, that the term “statutory” has been used so much in the form of “statutory rape” that the word “statutory” is now sometimes used to mean “pertaining to children”.

Why would you do such a thing? Didn’t you know that getting pregnant by someone else while still married was likely to cause problems?

So reports of burglars suing for injuries received while burglarizing are not real then? Wouldn’t that be “dirty hands”?