Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Threshold of guilt for conviction of federal crimes is diminishing; lack of knowledge of the law is no excuse
A story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller, “As federal crime list grows, threshold of guilt declines”, link here discusses the weakening of a legal concept “mens rea” or “guilty mind”, the idea that one must know he or she is breaking the law to be convicted of a crime.
Not necessarily, and back in the 1950s programs like “Day in Court” emphasized that point. But now there are so many more laws to “know” -- a point that will ring with libertarians. The WSJ story talks about a bizarre case involving a fur trapper in Alaska, where federal law limits what can be done with the animal remains by tribal nationality, in order to regulate hunting and protect animal populations. One would think the libertarian party there would have fought this. Would Sarah Palin say this is too much federal regulation?
On the other hand, a sidebar story on p A12 talks about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which would imprison environmental demonstrators if they caused their marks to “feel threatened.” Very overbroad. This point is covered in the indie film “If a Tree Falls” (Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman) which I reviewed on my movies blog Aug. 13.
The "intent" issue could complicate First Amendment law in an area called "implicit content", a point I have covered on my main and COPA blogs.