Sen. Paul Introduces FOCUS Act
Bill revises Lacey Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Rand Paul today introduced the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 - or FOCUS Act. This bill removes each and every reference to "foreign law" within the Lacey Act and substitutes the Lacey Act's criminal penalties with a reasonable civil penalty system. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and James Risch (R-Idaho) are co-sponsors on this legislation.
"It is long overdue that the Lacey Act be revised to address its broad overcriminalization," Sen. Paul said. "We have seen the damage this extremely broad and vague law has done to American companies and it is time to change its language to better serve Americans and the American jobs it threatens."
Background on the Lacey Act:
The Lacey Act is a conservation law that attempts to prohibit trafficking in "illegal" wildlife, fish and plants. Since 1900, when the bill was first signed into law, subsequent amendments (the Lacey Act was amended in 1935, 1969, 1981, 1988, and most recently, in 2008) have produced what today is an extremely broad and vague law that contains harsh criminal penalties. Notably, the original Lacey Act, named after Iowa Congressman John Lacey, contained a penalty "not exceeding two hundred dollars." There was no provision imposing jail or prison time.
The Lacey Act now serves as a high-profile and frightening example of over-criminalization. Victims include David McNab and Abner Schoenwetter, who spent years in federal prison for "violating" invalid Honduran fishing regulations and, most recently, Henry Juszkiewicz, the Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar Corp., whose company was raided by armed federal agents this past August.
During a hearing regarding the 1981 amendments to the Lacey Act, a representative from the National Rifle Association (NRA) specifically voiced civil liberties concerns with the bill, stating that their "first concern [wa]s with the broad expansion of criminal liability." Under the existing Lacey Act at that time, violations could only be prosecuted as misdemeanors, not felonies. However, the 1981 amendments expanded the potential penalties to allow for felony convictions.
In Sykes v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2267, 2288 (2011), Justice Scalia stated in his dissent that: "We face a Congress that puts forth an ever-increasing volume of laws in general, and of criminal laws in particular. It should be no surprise that as the volume increases, so do the number of imprecise laws . . . In the field of criminal law, at least, it is time to call a halt."
The Lacey Act as currently codified is overly broad, imprecise, vague, and subject to abuse by overzealous prosecutors and activist judges.