In 2009, [Eddie Leroy Anderson of Craigmont, Idaho] loaned his son some tools to dig for arrowheads near a favorite campground of theirs. Unfortunately, they were on federal land... [and] the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 ... makes it a felony punishable by up to two years in prison to attempt to take artifacts off federal land without a permit.
There is no evidence the Andersons intended to break the law, or even knew the law existed, according to court records and interviews. But the law ... doesn't require criminal intent...
Faced with that reality, the two men, who didn't find arrowheads that day, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and got a year's probation and a $1,500 penalty each.
As federal criminal statutes have ballooned, it has become increasingly easy for Americans to end up on the wrong side of the law. Many of the new federal laws also set a lower bar for conviction than in the past: Prosecutors don't necessarily need to show that the defendant had criminal intent. [Emphasis added.]
These factors are contributing to some unusual applications of justice. Father-and-son arrowhead lovers can't argue they made an innocent mistake. A lobster importer is convicted in the U.S. for violating a Honduran law that the Honduran government disavowed. A Pennsylvanian who injured her husband's lover doesn't face state criminal charges—instead, she faces federal charges tied to an international arms-control treaty.
Sure gets the blood boiling.
Except... wait, this is the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch is not known for adhering to the very highest levels of journalistic ethics. Could it be that there's some, uh. spinning going on here? After all, you can't trust anyone any more.
Last September, retired race-car champion Bobby Unser told a congressional hearing about his 1996 misdemeanor conviction for accidentally driving a snowmobile onto protected federal land, violating the Wilderness Act, while lost in a snowstorm. Though the judge gave him only a $75 fine, the 77-year-old racing legend got a criminal record.
Invoking Bobby Unser sure sounds like it's designed to tug at the heartstrings of the NASCAR set. Could there be another side to this story? Apparently not. The Salon report makes the incident sound even more egregious than the WSJ account, and Salon is not exactly known for its conservative bias.
All of which leads me to conclude that the real problem we have in the U.S. is that we seem to have abandoned every last vestige common sense.