There are many shocking real-life stories in Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Research Fellow Brian Walsh’s and co-author Visiting Fellow Paul Rosenzweig’s new book, One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. None perhaps as revealing as the one The Economist chose to highlight for their feature this week, Rough Justice: America locks up too many people, some for acts that should not even be criminal. The Economist recounts:
In 2000 four Americans were charged with importing lobster tails in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes, in violation of a Honduran regulation that Honduras no longer enforces. They had fallen foul of the Lacey Act, which bars Americans from breaking foreign rules when hunting or fishing. The original intent was to prevent Americans from, say, poaching elephants in Kenya. But it has been interpreted to mean that they must abide by every footling wildlife regulation on Earth. The lobstermen had no idea they were breaking the law. Yet three of them got eight years apiece. Two are still in jail.
Americans jailed for not following a foreign law that the foreign country does not even enforce may be the worst example of our nation’s overcriminalization but it is not the only one. Earlier this month Walsh appeared on John Stossel to discus the case of Krister Evertson. Walsh recounted:
Krister, an Eagle Scout with no criminal record – not even a single traffic ticket, was initially arrested by four FBI agents wearing black SWAT gear and pointing automatic rifles at him because he didn’t know that obscure federal regulations required him to put a certain sticker on his otherwise lawful UPS package. After spending 21 months in an Oregon federal prison, Krister today lives by himself in a ramshackle aluminum trailer sitting on the fenced-in grounds of a construction company’s equipment yard. Because he is on parole, he is not allowed even to move to Alaska – where he was arrested – to live with his 80-year-old mother whom he used to care for.
The Heritage Foundation does not agree with everything in The Economist’s reporting, but this conclusion definitely rings true:
America needs fewer and clearer laws, so that citizens do not need a law degree to stay out of jail. Acts that can be regulated should not be criminalised. Prosecutors’ powers should be clipped: most white-collar suspects are not Al Capone, and should not be treated as if they were.
Read more at Overcriminalized.com