What is the doctrine of willful blindness?
Ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith.
This is the foundation of law enforcement in the Philippines. A person cannot feign ignorance of the law in order to avoid compliance and the corresponding consequences or liabilities. The primordial reason behind the rule is that it is the person’s responsibility to know the law in the jurisdiction.
What happens if a person willfully avoid learning the law? It does not matter as there is the doctrine of willful blindness.
Doctrine of Willful blindness
The doctrine of willful blindness is the conscious effort to avoid learning of critical facts that are already made apparent by the surrounding circumstances. This doctrine is also referred to as the principle of “conscious avoidance”.
As there is no Philippine Supreme Court discussing the matter yet, the closest legal basis on the matter is the case of Global Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, ___ U.S. ___ (6/1/11) where the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) upheld the doctrine of willful blindness and even went so far as to apply it in civil cases, viz:
The doctrine of willful blindness is well established in criminal law. Many criminal statutes require proof that a defendant acted knowingly or willfully, and courts applying the doctrine of willful blindness hold that defendants cannot escape the reach of these statutes by deliberately shielding themselves from clear evidence of critical facts that are strongly suggested by the circumstances. The traditional rationale for this doctrine is that defendants who behave in this manner are just as culpable as those who have actual knowledge. Edwards, The Criminal Degrees of Knowledge, 17 Mod. L. Rev. 294, 302 (1954) (hereinafter Edwards) (observing on the basis of English authorities that “up to the present day, no real doubt has been cast on the proposition that [willful blindness] is as culpable as actual knowledge”). It is also said that persons who know enough to blind themselves to direct proof of critical facts in effect have actual knowledge of those facts. See United States v. Jewell, 532 F. 2d 697, 700 (CA9 1976) (en banc).
This Court’s opinion more than a century ago in Spurr v. United States, 174 U. S. 728 (1899), while not using the term “willful blindness,” endorsed a similar concept. The case involved a criminal statute that prohibited a bank officer from “willfully” certifying a check drawn against insufficient funds. We said that a willful violation would occur “if the [bank] officer purposely keeps himself in ignorance of whether the drawer has money in the bank.” Id., at 735. Following our decision in Spurr, several federal prosecutions in the first half of the 20th century invoked the doctrine of willful blindness. Later, a 1962 proposed draft of the Model Penal Code, which has since become official, attempted to incorporate the doctrine by defining “knowledge of the existence of a particular fact” to include a situation in which “a person is aware of a high probability of [the fact’s] existence, unless he actually believes that it does not exist.” ALI, Model Penal Code §2.02(7) (Proposed Official Draft 1962). Our Court has used the Code’s definition as a guide in analyzing whether certain statutory presumptions of knowledge comported with due process. See Turner v. United States, 396 U. S. 398, 416–417 (1970); Leary v. United States, 395 U. S. 6, 46–47, and n. 93 (1969). And every Court of Appeals— with the possible exception of the District of Columbia Circuit, see n. 9, infra—has fully embraced willful blindness, applying the doctrine to a wide range of criminal statutes.
Given the long history of willful blindness and its wide acceptance in the Federal Judiciary, we can see no reason why the doctrine should not apply in civil lawsuits for induced patent infringement under 35 U. S. C. §271(b).
In summary, the doctrine of willful blindness negates the offender’s defense conscious avoidance of knowing a set of critical facts in the hopes of avoiding liability. This doctrine simply reiterates and even reinforces the doctrine of ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one).