Think you’re a law-abiding citizen? You might not be as squeaky clean as you think. And a SWAT team barging through your front door could be the first clue that you’re a suspected felon.

Can’t happen here? Don’t bet on it. The federal criminal code lists more than 4,450 criminal offenses, and Congress adds more than 50 new ones to that number every year.

More frightening, it is estimated that unelected bureaucrats have created up to 300,000 regulations that may be enforced with criminal penalties!

And those numbers—as staggering as they are—don’t include all the state and local laws and regulations that govern your everyday behavior.

Are you still sure you didn’t cross the line somewhere today—even if it was an honest mistake?

Take the following quiz to see if you can detect how the “overcriminalization” of America wrecked the lives of five people who thought they were law-abiding citizens and consider—could it happen to you?

Ready for the first case?

A clean-fuel inventor shipped a chemical he had sold legally to a legal buyer, but he did not know that federal regulations required him to put a certain label on the package. He . . .

This desperado was arrested by an automatic rifle-toting FBI SWAT team and was jailed, pending trial for using the incorrect sticker. He was acquitted in his first trial. Prosecutors then charged him with abandoning “hazardous waste” when he had actually safely stored the valuable chemicals when he moved to care for his ailing mother. The second jury convicted him and sent him to prison for two years.

Next case!

Authorities were called to aid a heart attack victim and saw her husband’s small home laboratory, which they deemed suspicious. They . . .

The “lab” was found to be a harmless art display. Unimpressed, the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Homeland Security arrested the artist—as he was entering the funeral home to make his wife’s final arrangements. When they couldn’t make terrorism charges stick, they changed their theory of the “crime” and indicted the artist for his alleged misuse of laboratory materials to create the display.

Next case!

An investor owned up to an honest mistake on a stock deal and settled an SEC civil complaint by forfeiting his profits and paying fines totaling $321,387.84. Criminal prosecutors then . . .

The investor had the bad luck to make his honest mistake while Enron and WorldCom were melting down under widespread reports of sleazy corporate scheming. As anti-Wall Street hysteria reached a fever pitch, Washington, D.C. responded with a massive law full of vague and overly broad provisions. Under pressure to come down hard on Wall Street, highly aggressive prosecutors used the new law to try to make an example of the investor.

Next case!

American fishery regulators received an anonymous fax claiming an importer was breaking an obscure federal law based on supposed violations of an invalid foreign regulation. The government . . .

Trick question: It’s all of the above. And when the importer appealed his conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit added international insult to injury. High-ranking Honduran officials had certified that their country had nullified the rules the American law was supposed to uphold well before the “crime” occurred. But the justices rejected their testimony on the grounds that the officials might have been bribed or manipulated.

Next case!

An 11-year-old honor student got up after a school bully knocked him down and then socked his tormentor. The school . . .

If the honor student had been an adult, his courageous act of defending himself without wrongful intent would not have been considered criminal. The school administrators’ “zero tolerance” mind-set, however, got everything backward: The bully aggressor is the victim, and the victim who defended himself is the criminal—and he was charged with disorderly conduct and fighting in a public place.

Next case!

Turning Law-Abiding Citizens into Criminals

Congress and state legislatures are overcriminalizing America at an alarming rate. The federal criminal code alone grows by more than 50 new offenses every year. To make matters worse, bureaucrats have tacked on tens of thousands of regulations to coerce compliance through the threat of criminal prosecution. This is government overreach on a grand scale.

The Good News

The 2010 election showed that Americans are fed up with government intrusion into their private lives. And absolutely nothing endangers your personal liberty more than the crazy quilt of federal laws that create traps for citizens who are doing their best to abide by the laws of the land . . . and who have no idea that they are at risk of fines, prison, and financial ruin.

The outrages you’ve read are proof positive that overcriminalization is undermining America's criminal law system.

When you fill out the form below, The Heritage Foundation will send you a free download of Edwin Meese's introduction to One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty.

If you thought the answers in this quiz were shocking, this is a must-read.

Get your free copy of Ed Meese’s Introduction to One Nation Under Arrest.




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