IT’S A CRIME?: Flaws in Federal Statutes That Punish Standard Business Practice

Civil Justice Report:  “Since the dawn of Anglo-Saxon common law, conviction for committing a crime required evidence of malicious intent—that is, a conscious willingness to violate society’s norms by inflicting harm on people directly or by misappropriating or abusing their property.  This stricture, which is often referred to as the blameworthiness principle, has tended to ensure that people who inadvertently and in good faith infringe laws and regulations will not suffer the stigmatization of a criminal conviction, not to mention the penalty of a steep fine or incarceration. . . . In many instances, the laws in question are so voluminous and loosely drafted that even a student of the legislation would not have fair notice of what conduct was prohibited and what was not.

Ordinary Americans have been convicted of crimes under overbroad federal laws because their employer unsuspectingly forwarded drugs that had been mislabeled by another company; because their adult children failed to properly record the itinerary of a camping trip in a public park while doing volunteer work for the family touring business; and because their computer servers stored copies of clients’ e-mails as an emergency precaution. Others have been judged criminals for such common failings as violating the terms of an employee handbook that prohibited otherwise legal behavior; lying about the details of a legal business transaction in response to media inquiries; and falsely claiming to be a talent scout in order to attract women.

2017-06-02T21:13:50+00:00

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