I recently did a post about three “quirky” federal crimes I sometimes can use when trying to negotiate a “deal” for my clients facing a criminal case in federal court, often in Atlanta but many times in other parts of the country. While these three are real crimes and sometimes are used to resolve a case, there are other federal crimes that are, to be blunt, stupid.
Some of these laws are found in the US Code. Others are based on regulations issued by various federal department. When combined with prosecutors who are rarely restrained by the courts, these laws may sound funny but actually represent potential dangers to all of us.
1) 21 U.S.C. §333 and the associated 21 Code of Federal Regulations §102.39 makes a criminal out of anyone who sells onion rings resembling normal onion rings, but which are made from diced onion, without saying so. So, now we are safe from these criminals.
2) Those who like wine need to consider 27 U.S.C. §205, 207 and 27 C.F.R. §4.64(a)(8). Taken together, these make it a federal crime to advertise wine in a manner that suggests it has intoxicating qualities. You can say it’s good, just don’t say it will get you drunk, because we all need to be protected from these arch-villains.
3) For those who like to punish their grandkids with the old “pull my finger” joke, consider 21 U.S.C. §333, and 352 combined with 21 C.F.R. §332.30(b). You guessed it, these laws make it a crime to sell anti-flatulent drugs without noting that flatulence is “referred to as gas.” Questions?
4) Take a close look at the water spigots in the national forest to avoid being a criminal violator of 16 U.S.C. §551 and 36 C.F.R. §261.16(c). If you are not being observant, you might violate these laws which make it a federal crime to wash a fish at a faucet if it’s not a fish-washing faucet. Say that fast three times, I dare you.
5) Were you aware that it is a federal crime to knowingly let your pig enter a fenced-in area on public land where it might destroy the grass? I thought so, you failed to read 18 U.S.C. §1857.
6) Be wary if you are a golfer and have business in or near Washington D.C. or any national park. Why, you coyly ask? Because under 18 U.S.C. §1865 and 36 C.F.R. §7.96(b)(3) it is a separate federal crime to harass a golfer in any of these locations.
There are many more, such as those mentioned here.
I’ll close with a reference to the late and greatly missed Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court. A law emanating out of the Enron accounting scandal criminalizes the destruction or concealment of “any record, document, or tangible object” to obstruct a federal investigation. Prosecutors actually brought a federal criminal case against a fisherman under this law when he threw back 72 grouper to supposedly avoid being caught with undersized fish. Prosecutors were trying to convince the Supreme Court that a grouper is a “tangible object” under this law. This crime has a 20-year maximum sentence. In the highlight of the oral argument Justice Scalia noted the potential for 20 years and asked “what kind of mad prosecutor” would use that law in a case like this one? The government lawyer weakly responded that the prosecutors had not asked for a twenty-year sentence against the fisherman. The Court ruled for the fisherman, but the lesson remains: stupid laws and barely restrained federal prosecutors remain a danger to all who love liberty.