The passage of criminal laws in response to perceived problems has been a common practice of politicians. Many believe that new criminal laws are a lot easier for politicians to deal with than agreeing on the budget, social security or keeping the government running. At the federal level, this leads to expanding criminal statutes that usually duplicate existing laws. The expansion of crimes, however, also occurs when the laws are stretched to cover conduct not contemplated by Congress.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was the congressional response to the Enron scandal. The law includes a provision that makes it a crime to alter, destroy, falsify or make a false entry on any document, record or tangible object to impede an investigation.
While many think this law was aimed at record keeping activities of large corporations, it has been expanded to criminalizing throwing away undersized fish.
The Supreme Court has decided to review the conviction of a fisherman for throwing away undersized fish after he received a citation (ticket) in the Gulf of Mexico from a federal officer for taking undersized fish and being told to bring the fish into port. Unfortunately those who practice criminal law have seen many examples of criminal laws being applied to conduct which Congress did not consider.
From Enron’s shredding of corporate records to throwing away small fish is an example of the expansion of criminal laws. It only took a little over 10 years from the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act designed to punish corporate destruction of records to be used to prosecute a fisherman for throwing small fish overboard.
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