I’ve written before about how our society seems more and more like it’s trying to turn us into a nation of criminals. It feels paranoid to even think it, especially when so few people actually agree with the notion. Of course, you know what they say, “It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.”
This one comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.
For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a “guilty mind.”
This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.
As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time. When the police came to Wade Martin’s home in Sitka, Alaska, in 2003, he says he had no idea why. Under an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, coastal Native Alaskans such as Mr. Martin are allowed to trap and hunt species that others can’t. That included the 10 sea otters he had recently sold for $50 apiece.
Mr. Martin, 50 years old, readily admitted making the sale. “Then, they told me the buyer wasn’t a native,” he recalls.
Martin was convicted, despite the fact that he had no idea he had committed a crime. They say that ignorance of the law is no defense, but how is one supposed to know that their actions are illegal? Are we all supposed to stay at home, wrapped in bubble wrap, lest we inadvertently run afoul of some regulation?