Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Deliberate Ignorance Definition:

Willful blindness to criminal activity.

Related Terms: Racketeering, Deliberate, Deliberate Indifference

A term used primarily in American competition law, or racketeering legislation.

In US v Chavez-Alvarez, Justice Wollman of the United States Court of Appeals wrote:

"Ignorance is deliberate if the defendant was presented with facts that put him or her on notice that criminal activity was particularly likely, yet the defendant intentionally failed to investigate those facts."

In Chaney v Dreyfus, a January 2010 decision of Justice Jolly of the United States Court of Appeals, the Court held:

"Deliberate ignorance exists where there is a conscious effort to avoid positive knowledge of a fact which is an element of an offense charged so the defendant can plead lack of positive knowledge in the event he should be caught.

"It exists if (1) the defendant was subjectively aware of a high probability of the existence of the illegal conduct but (2) purposely contrived to avoid learning of the illegal conduct. Neither awareness of some probability of illegal conduct nor a showing the defendant should have known is enough, and so the circumstances which will support a deliberate indifference instruction are rare.

"It requires conscious action in light of known facts amounting to a charade of ignorance. In short, deliberate ignorance is reflected in a defendant's actions which suggest, in effect, Don't tell me, I don't want to know. Deliberate ignorance is the legal equivalent of knowledge."


  • Chaney v. Dreyfus Service Corporation, Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, January 25, 2010
  • US v. Chavez-Alvarez, 594 F. 3d 1062 (2010; No. 08-60555)

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