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Will you be a felon today?

Will you be a felon today?

The National Marine Fisheries Service charged Schoenwetter (http://www.askheritage.org/Answer.aspx?ID=1542), a respected South Florida merchant, with violating the Lacey Act, a well-meaning 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. So what foreign regulations had Schoenwetter violated? Well, 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; 3) 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 Schoenwetter 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.

The injustice done to Abner Schoenwetter may be an extreme case, but it illustrates a very real problem that is currently undermining the civil liberties of all Americans. Between 2000 and 2007, Congress created 452 entirely new crimes, a rate of over one new crime every week. By the end of 2007, the U.S. Code included more than 4,450 federal crimes, with an estimated tens of thousands more located in the federal regulatory code. Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silvergate estimates that the average working American unknowingly commits Three Felonies a Day.

From the Heritage Foundation, 10/6/10

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