Criminal Justice

Federal Laws Multiply: Jail Time for Misappropriating Smokey Bear Image?


Federal criminal statutes have multiplied to such an extent that it has become increasingly difficult to count them.

As a result of the increase, federal prisons now house more than 200,000 inmates, eight times the number 30 years ago, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. And more people are in criminal jeopardy, often unwittingly, since increasingly the new laws do not have an intent requirement.

A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman tells the Wall Street Journal that the number of federal criminal laws can’t be quantified. Studies have put the number at more than 3,000 and at 4,500.

The story includes these examples of federal crimes and their consequences:

• A prison sentence is a possibility for unauthorized use of the Smokey Bear image or the slogan “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.”

• Retired logger and science teacher Eddie Leroy Anderson of Idaho was prosecuted when he gave his son tools to dig up arrowheads near their favorite campground. Both men were accused of taking artifacts off federal land without a permit, putting them at risk of a two-year prison sentence. They ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

• Race-car driver Bobby Unser was convicted of a misdemeanor in 1996 when he accidentally drove his snowmobile onto protected federal land.

• Lobster importer Abner Schoenwetter served 69 months in prison for violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a felony to import fish or wildlife in violation of another country’s laws. A portion of his lobsters were undersized, a violation of a Honduran law later struck down by the country’s courts.

Related coverage:

Wall Street Journal (sub. req.): “Many Failed Efforts to Count Nation’s Federal Criminal Laws”

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