Restore the Law's FOCUS
by Paul J. Larkin, at NationalReview.com
You’ve been invited to participate on a new game show called Do You Know the Law? Two wrong answers eliminate you.
“Why not?” you say to yourself. “I know as much law as the next person. What’s the worst that could happen: embarrassment?”
The first panelist correctly answers the question, “Can you steal your neighbor’s car?” The second aces the query, “Can you lie on a loan application?” You, however, get the question, “Do you import spiny lobster from Honduras in a plastic bag or a cardboard box?”
You are flummoxed, though not alone. (It turns out that a lawyer and a judge on earlier shows got it wrong, too.) After guessing “plastic” and not hearing applause, you figure that at least all the tough questions are behind you. But on your next turn, you hear, “What is the minimum-size lobster that you can import from Honduras, 5 inches or 5.5?” Guessing incorrectly again, you are whisked away bemoaning the unfairness of being asked questions that no reasonable person could answer correctly.
But the feds expect everyone to get those questions right. Just ask Abner Schoenwetter. He was charged under a law called the Lacey Act with precisely those “heinous” crimes: importing lobsters that, supposedly in violation of Honduran law, were too small to be taken and should have been packed in boxes, not clear plastic bags. Turns out, the law was void. But the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted him anyway, and the federal courts upheld his conviction.
Unfortunately for Abner, he wasn’t just asked to leave the courtroom empty-handed. He spent five-plus years in federal prison for getting those two questions wrong. True story. And if you find it startling, disturbing, and outrageous, you’re not alone.
Welcome to the world of overcriminalization — the overuse and misuse of the criminal law...
There are more than 4,500 federal criminal statutes, and hundreds of thousands of implementing regulations. No one could know everything in the federal criminal code...But even if someone managed that feat, he still would not be home safe. The Lacey Act demands that you also know every law — civil and administrative as well as criminal — of every foreign land....
But there is hope. Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and Representative Paul C. Broun (R., Ga.) have introduced companion bills in the Senate and House to prevent such miscarriages of justice as befell Abner Schoenwetter. Read More: National Review
Watch Senator Paul's Testimony