• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Members of Congress Work to Rein In Overcriminalization in America

    What do a legendary guitar maker and a lobster importer have in common? Both are alleged to have run afoul of the Lacey Act, one of the most egregious, overcriminalized statutes on the books. Now some Members of Congress are working to inject some much-needed fairness into the justice system.

    Originally enacted in 1900 as a modest law designed simply to protect states against poachers who fled across state lines, the Lacey Act today makes it a federal crime to import fish, wildlife, or plants in violation of any foreign law adopted in any form by any foreign nation, irrespective of the reasonableness of a person’s conduct. No other nation puts its citizens at such risk of imprisonment.

    The result, predictably, has been miscarriage of justice. Federal agents raided the Tennessee manufacturing plant of Gibson Guitar for an alleged violation of the Lacey Act due to the import of certain wood from India. Months after the raid, the U.S. government still holds more than $1 million in seized property but has yet to file charges against the company.

    Abner Schoenwetter spent five-plus years in prison for “heinous” crimes like importing lobsters into the U.S. that, under a void Honduran law, were too small to be taken and should have been packed in boxes rather than in clear plastic bags.

    Now, some members of Congress are looking to change that. On May 8, the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs of the House Committee on Natural Resources is scheduled to hold a hearing on H.R. 4171, The Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 (FOCUS Act), a bill that would eliminate the foreign law provisions and make the Lacey Act enforceable only through civil process.

    On May 9 at 3:30 p.m., Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) and Representative Paul C. Broun (R–GA) will be at Heritage to discuss their companion bills and the impact they would have on federal criminal law. You can join us live or watch online via our free webcast.

    Even with the injustices clearly documented and extensive research into the merits of reforming the Lacey Act, the bills from Senator Paul and Representative Broun do not come without opposition. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association has opposed the decriminalization of foreign environmental laws for reasons that Paul Larkin has argued are unconvincing.

    It is high time that Congress begin to recognize the problems of overcriminalization, as former Attorney General Ed Meese has explained on several occasions. Rather than writing more outrageous criminal laws (such as those concerning the Titanic, for example), Congress should join the discussion and carefully consider what truly should be punishable as a crime.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to Members of Congress Work to Rein In Overcriminalization in America

    1. Pragmatic says:

      Oh. From the title I thought you were going to address something that matters like our War on Drugs that is costing this country billions (if not trillions) annually to fight marijuana.

      • johnnyj38 says:

        I enjoy hearing the other points of abusive laws once in a while. I rant about the war on drugs all the time, read about it every day and so does this publication and many others.
        It is good to bring up things that DON'T involve the war on drugs, because most people don't do drugs and don't care about people who abuse drugs, nor the laws concerning them.

    2. stib says:

      No. End prohibition of undersized Honduran lobsters now!

    3. Kodachrome says:

      So two or three crazy regulation related arrests are a big deal to these guys, but not locking up millions for smoking a bit of weed?

    4. gwills25 says:

      It would have been a simple matter for Gibson to obtain the documentation and import wood legally. But they don't want to, don't see why they should have to. Waa, waa, waa. They are seeking changes in the law that will allow them to import wood without regard to the environmental consequences.

      As Pragmatic points out, there are other more urgent "overcriminalization" issues costing too much.

      • willban1 says:

        From everything I have read about this, Gibson DID in fact obtain all documentation and licenses. The governments of India and Indonesia have also provided affidavits that none of their laws were violated. Seems to me more of a payback to a legendary company for having the audacity to support conservative causes, organizations, and candidates. The DOJ is certainly fast and furious when anyone dares oppose their agenda.

    5. Leon Lundquist says:

      Gosh Honduras doesnt make American Law! But who could be against that? Yeah! The First American Communist Administration in History. Go figure!

    6. willban1 says:

      gwills25- from everything I have read, Gibson DID obtain all documents and permits required. Even the government of India has stated in an affidavit that NONE of their laws were violated. In my opinion this is is more of a payback to a legendary company for supporting conservative organizations, causes, and candidates. DOJ certainly IS fast and furious with anyone opposing their agenda.

    7. Bobbie says:

      what right does the government have to intrude between businesses? The only danger and life threats is coming from government involvement who's hazardously, childish, unwarranted rants need reprimand and removal from responsible adults.

    8. tucanofulano says:

      Raids on Gibson Guitar, and thousands of other stupid actions, just proves that when you give a bureaucrat (like Obama) a few inches he believes he is a ruler.

      Yet Obama/Holder refuse to prosecute real criminals and terrorists – Gitmo "trial" for example: Any real American would execute these terrorists immediately; as they have not been it's clear there are no real Americans in Obama's administration.

    9. Loren says:

      The problem is that the federal money is based on how many criminal convictions they can get.

    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.

    ×