The following column is from the Heritage Foundation:
Every day, more Americans get trapped by big government. In addition to groups targeted by the IRS, upstanding citizens going about their normal lives are suddenly targeted by law enforcement authorities and charged as criminals. Just a few examples:
- A young girl from Virginia was fined $535… for rescuing a wounded woodpecker.
- A Florida businessman was jailed for years… for shipping lobsters in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes.
- A Maryland father and building engineer faced a years-long legal ordeal… after being unfairly targeted under the Clean Water Act.
The following are examples of Floridians caught up in this overreaching dragnet of criminalization:
- Sixteen-year-old Kiera Wilmot, described by her principal as “a good kid,” had good grades and had never been in trouble at school—let alone with the law. Now she is facing felony charges for a “science experiment gone wrong.”
- Anthony Brasfield, a 40-year-old Florida man, was arrested Sunday for releasing a dozen heart-shaped helium balloons into the air in what was to be a romantic gesture for his girlfriend, according to SunSentinel.com.
- The next time a cashier asks “paper or plastic?” think of Abbie Schoenwetter. He spent more than six years in federal confinement for shipping lobster in plastic instead of cardboard.
These are only a few of the shocking incidents The Heritage Foundation chronicles in our new project, USA vs. YOU. Experts at Heritage’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies reveal the stories of 22 people from all backgrounds, races, and income levels victimized by carelessly written laws.
When criminal laws are created to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake, and compel the “right” behaviors, this troubling trend is known as overcriminalization. Ultimately, it leads to injustice for honest, hard-working Americans at every level of society.
Public interest groups from across the political spectrum recognize how this flood of criminal laws violates our basic liberties. Diverse organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the American Center for Law and Justice, and Right on Crime, among others, have joined with Heritage to reaffirm the true purpose of America’s justice system: to ensure public safety and protect the innocent.
When was the last time you saw the ACLU work together with a faith-based group like Justice Fellowship? With USA vs. YOU, the problem is grave enough to bring together unlikely allies. And we’re delivering this bipartisan message just as the House of Representatives has launched a task force aimed at correcting this issue.
This morning, Heritage Senior Legal Fellow John Malcolm will testify at the first hearing of the Overcriminalization Task Force—shining a spotlight on the scope and severity of this threat to our liberties. Ending the practice of trapping our citizens with unnecessary laws will be no easy task, with an estimated 4,500 criminal law offenses and 300,000 criminal regulations on the books.
Over the next six months, Members of Congress from both parties will study this issue in depth, hold hearings, and—with the right encouragement—take steps to enact real reform.
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