• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • The Economist on Overcriminalization

    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

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to The Economist on Overcriminalization

    1. Al, Cleveland says:

      I agree there are too many and too overlaping criminal laws. The kneejerk reaction of Congress is to make something illegal regardless if there is another law that already makes it illegal or even if it should be illegal in the first place. For example in the lobster tail case, I would ask why it should be an American law that breaking ANY foreign law is illegal in the US. If a foreign law is broken, there are already extradition procedures to address it. If the US has no extradition treaties with another country then it must mean their laws are not worth bothering if US citizens break them.

    2. Nick, Los Angeles says:

      There is a simple reason for this. If you upset the establishment NWO cronies, it gives them the ability to silence and destroy you through laws designed to protect them. Laws which only you are subject to, and they are free from.

    3. PJ Ft Worth, Tx says:

      Overcrinimalization of peaceful middle class professionals is a specialty service provided by recent Democrat administration regimes. Just ask Wen Ho Lee (accused of spying for China at LASL) or the physicians harassed for "Medicare Fraud "under the Clinton-Reno DOJ(while voter fraud, etc. runs rampant).

    4. Linda Coral Springs says:

      My neighbor Bob Blandford is serving 8 years prison term for importing lobster in plastic instead of cardboard boxes.

      Bob hadn't even taken possession of the shipment,and still he was arrested.A Hondurian official testified that no law was broken,yet Bob was still sentenced.If this self employed,upright Canadian turned US citizen can be targeted and imprisoned,it could happen to anyone.

      The big question here,is who paid who off? So if you are successful in your business,be aware you are being watched by your competitor and unprotected by the U.S. government.

    5. Dianne Blandford says:

      I am the wife of the defendantRobert Blandford, who was sentenced to eight years in prison. for importing lobster tails , we had 14 agents barge into into our home with guns and rams) this devasted our family..

      My husband didn't smuggle in lobster tails ,every shipment cleared U.S. Customs and FDA. He handed in all the necessary paperwork required for US Customs , and United States Food and Drug administration. . . He sold his lobster tails to Red Lobster Restaurant and other seafood chains all the charges. , . My husband was self -employed running a small business out of his home . He was a broker in the seafood business making commission on so many cents/lb ..

      I have been running his seafood business since his incarceration.Quite honestly, even though I hand in all the required documents to the officials , I am pertified that I will be in violation of some law. I believe there is over 700 pages of rules and regulations in the industry. .

      My husband was transfered from the Federal Detention Center. It took him weeks to get to his destination. (know as diesel Therapy among inmates) he was skackled and chained bused with lifers and murderers. Two US Marshall Conair flights later , he finally reach his prison destination.

      My husband always respected the law and the environment he had his CITES for en-dangered species since 1995, complied with HACCP program


      "There are less costly and more effective non-criminal remedies to handle environmental infraction not eight years in jail. There is much more to this lobster case but would be too lengthy to go into.

      thank you for taking the time to read this

      Dianne Blandford

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.