Filed under: Foreign Policy, Freedom, Law, Statism, Taxes | Tags: 4450 Federal Crimes, Targeting the Innocent., Too Much Government
From the Foundry at the Heritage Foundation:
Albert Schoenwetter had been in the commercial seafood business since 1986. He had built a successful business over the years, distributing seafood across the country, including lobster tails imported from overseas. Schoenwetter was a law-abiding citizen, his transactions were perfectly legal and he had no reason to believe that he was breaking any law.
At 7:00 a.m. one morning in 1999, armed agents from the FBI, IRS and National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) showed up at his south Florida home with search warrants. The federal agents herded him, his wife, his mother-in-law and his daughter (all still in their night clothes) into the living room where they were told to sit and be quiet.
A year later, Schoenwetter was sentenced to eight years in prison, three years of supervise release and fined over $100,000. His crime? Schoenwetter testified to the House Judiciary Committee last week:
No matter how you frame it, the truth is that I am a convicted felon who has just spent the last six years of my life in federal prison for entering into a contract to buy lobsters.
Specifically, the NMFS charged Schoenwetter with violating the Lacey Act, a law that makes it a crime for an American to take wildlife in violation of domestic laws or regulations. The law was intended to punish, for example, an American who killed an elephant in Kenya in violation of Kenyan wildlife protections.
What regulations had Schoenwetter violated? The NMFS claimed that the lobsters he had contracted to buy were in violation of three Honduran regulations: 1) they were in plastic bags, not cardboard boxes; 2) they were undersized; 2) some of them were egg-bearing lobsters.
Despite the fact that this specific shipment was no different than any of the hundreds of other deals Schoenwetter had done over the years, despite the fact that he had never seen the lobsters in question and knew nothing of the Honduran regulations, and despite the fact that the Honduran Attorney General confirmed that the size regulation had never actually been signed into law and the Honduran Minister of Justice testified that the egg-bearing regulation was directed at turtles, not lobsters, Schoenwetter’s conviction was upheld.
Heritage posted this story to illustrate a very real problem undermining the civil liberties of all Americans. Just by the end of 2007, the U.S. Code contains more than 4,450 federal crimes, with tens of thousands more in the federal regulatory code. Heritage Senior Legal Research Fellow Brian Walsh testified to last week’s Judiciary Committee why this is happening:
Placing thousands of vague, overbroad criminal laws in the hands of government officials means that no one is safe from unjust prosecution and punishment. Many of these criminal laws punish conduct that the average person would not guess is prohibited. The body of criminal law thus fails to meet one of the primary requirements of due process: providing individuals with fair notice of what conduct can be punished criminally.
A basic principle of our system of justice has been that no citizen should be subjected to criminal punishment for conduct that he did not know was illegal or otherwise wrongful. This principle is embodied in the requirement that, with rare exceptions, the government must prove a defendant acted with intent, or at least knowledge, before subjecting him to criminal punishment.
A wide range of organizations supported the congressional hearing on overcriminalization, including the American Bar Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and many others.
Heritage recommends that Congress should: 1) Enact default rules ensuring that mens rea (criminal intent) requirements are adequate to protect against unjust conviction; 2) Codify the rule of lenity which grants the benefit of doubt when Congress fails to legislate clearly; 3) Require adequate judiciary committee oversight of every bill proposing criminal offenses or penalties; 4) Provide detailed written justification for an analysis of all new federal criminalization; 5) Redouble efforts to draft every federal criminal offense clearly and precisely.
Civil Liberties Attorney Harvey Silvergate notes that the average working American probably commits Three Felonies a Day.
Filed under: Art, Heartwarming, History | Tags: Recreating Times Past, Stories in Photographs, The World of Elgin Park
Go to YouTube and enter “Elgin Park” in the search function. You will find more examples of what people have done with the photographs. Fascinating.
Filed under: Education, History, Pop Culture, Television, United Kingdom | Tags: 24's Jack Bauer, Buzz Lightyear, Misconceptions of Schoolchildren
I think we are making a vast mistake to let the federal government get its grasping hands on our children’s education. It is one thing for a country to insist that its children receive an education, and quite another to turn the whole thing over to central planning.
Once again, Britain has become a bad example. This time it’s education, though usually we look to the U.K. for what not to do in the realm of health care.
A study of 2,000 British schoolchildren revealed that one in five kids believe that Buzz Lightyear was the first person to set foot on the moon. One in twenty believes that Counter Terrorist Jack Bauer was the brains behind the Gunpowder plot that blew up the houses of Parliament. And it’s not just history.
A third did not know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and one in five thought it was Charles Darwin. Eleven percent thought Isaac Newton discovered fire and Albert Einstein was Frankenstein’s brother. One in twenty thought Christopher Columbus discovered liposuction, not America.
Twelve percent of kids thought the battle of Britain took place in space, and one in six think Darth Vader’s Deathstar is the farthest planet from Earth.
One in six failed to identify US President Barack Obama, claiming he was Mr. T from the A-Team, but a whopping 65 percent knew Britney Spears shaved her head.
We laugh at these sad misconceptions, but if the same survey were conducted in our own country, I shudder to think of the results. It is sad that kids know more about celebrity culture than about history and world events. Popular culture is very dominant, and the TV is more ubiquitous in the home than good history books.
The British research was carried out to mark the launch of the What on Earth? Wallbook which details and illustrates historical events from the big bang to the present day. So one might take the survey with at least a tiny grain of salt, as its purpose is to sell the new “wallbook.”
However, it was not too long ago that I saw a small article noting that Winston Churchill had been removed from the British curriculum. Go figure.