Originally enacted in 1900 as a modest law designed simply to protect states against poachers who fled across state lines, the Lacey Act today makes it a federal crime to import fish, wildlife, or plants in violation of any foreign law adopted in any form by any foreign nation, irrespective of the reasonableness of a person’s conduct. No other nation puts its citizens at such risk of imprisonment. The result, predictably, has been miscarriages of justice. Abner Schoenwetter spent five-plus years in prison for “heinous” crimes like importing lobsters into the U.S. that, under a void Honduran law, were too small to be taken and that should have been packed in boxes, rather than in clear plastic bags.
Senator Rand Paul and Representative Paul C. Broun have introduced companion bills in the Senate and House to prevent repetition of cases like that one. The Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 (FOCUS Act), S. 2062 and H.R. 4171, would make the Lacey Act enforceable only through civil process. On Tuesday May 8, 2012, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs of the House Committee on Natural Resources is scheduled to hold a hearing on H.R. 4171. Senator Paul and Representative Broun will discuss their bills and the impact they would have on federal criminal law.
More About the Speakers
The Honorable Rand Paul (R-KY)
Member, United States Senate
The Honorable Paul C. Broun (R-GA)
Member, United States House of Representatives
Edwin Meese III
Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus