The expansion of prosecutions and over-criminalization of conduct has taken on two principal forms; one is laws that do not require criminal intent and second is prosecutors expanding criminal statutes beyond the intended purpose.
The expression “Don’t make a federal case out of it” has been ignored all too often by both federal prosecutors and Congress. Two examples are worth mentioning.
Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania charged Carol Bond with violating the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act which forbids a person from possessing or using any chemical weapon. Ms. Bond discovered that her husband had an affair and used readily available chemicals to inflict minor injuries to the “other” woman. The chemical caused minor burning sensations and was easily washed off with water. Ms. Bond was sentenced to six years in prison and could have been sentenced to life. In comparison, the state charged Ms. Bond with a minor offense based on harassing phone calls and letters.
The United States Supreme Court reversed the federal conviction, writing “the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the development of a chemical weapon.” The federal prosecutors were stretching the criminal law beyond reason.
In Michigan, federal prosecutors charged a defendant with forced labor of children, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The defendant provided a home for 4 of his wife’s young relatives. They lived together as a family. The children were required to do household chores, as well as schoolwork. The defendant worked two jobs and also did yard work to support the family. The defendant imposed punishment on the children that was deemed abusive, for not doing their chores and homework.
The federal prosecutors convicted the defendant of a forced labor charge. The court of appeals reversed, noting that the statute used by the prosecutors would make a federal crime out of widely accepted parental rights such as requiring children to help in the home and do schoolwork. Discipline of a child that is too severe is a matter for the state, not the federal government.
The over-criminalization of conduct is a danger to liberty. We must stay ever vigilant as citizens, voters, and jurors to prevent the passage of laws that allow convictions for conduct that a person would not know is criminal and prevent expanding laws beyond their intended reach.
Law Offices of Mark L. Horwitz, P.A.
17 East Pine Street
Orlando, FL 32801
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