The Twitter account @CrimeADay shares all sorts of rather... interesting
things which are crimes under US law. It looks ridiculous at first, but there are some very interesting things here that aren't obvious.
First of all, don't be alarmed: the law isn't, normally, as specific as the tweets indicate. The tweets list things which happen to be crimes under the laws, but (for example) the law below doesn't specifically talk about doves, pigeons, and automatic weapons.
But what you may miss if you're not a lawyer is that this account isn't called "a regulation a day;" it's called "a crime
a day" for a reason. The things they post about are all handled under criminal law, leading to arrest, charges, and possible prison time. You might imagine why someone going after doves with a Browning machine-gun might be a good candidate for hauling off, but some of these other ones may seem a bit stranger:
"21 USC §§601(n)(7), 676, 610(c) & 9 CFR §319.181 make it a federal crime to sell "cheesefurters" that contain insufficient cheese." (Up to $1,000 fine and one year in prison if done without fraudulent intent, or $10,000 and three years if done deliberately)
"16 U.S.C. §460d & 36 C.F.R. §327.11(a) make it a federal crime to let your dog bark while on a federal water resources development site." (Up to $500 and six months)
"10 U.S.C. §2674(c) & 32 C.F.R. §234.15(b) make it a federal crime to draw a sketch of the Pentagon without permission." (Civil penalty of $1,000 if you don't do so "willfully," 6 months if you do. Having read this post, you presumably are fully aware of the law, and so if you ever do so in the future, you're going to jail. Sorry.)
"18 USC §1865 & 36 CFR §7.16(a)(5) make it a crime to gather grubs from fallen logs in Yosemite, if you can be seen doing it from a trail." (Six months plus a fine. This demonstrates the importance of not being seen.)
The general phenomenon underlying this is called overcriminalization:
it happens when regulators try to add "teeth" to their regulations by convincing legislators to make them part of criminal law, generally by attaching criminal penalties to a failure to obey an administrative regulation. The problem is often that the people who write these regulations have no idea how criminal law works. For example, regulations often say that you may not do something. Criminal law, however, normally says that you may not do something negligently, recklessly, knowingly, willfully, and so on. Since the people drafting regulations don't tend to really be thinking about this issue (known as mens rea
), they just say that it's against regulations if you do it – which suddenly creates crimes that you can commit without having any idea!
That's why many of the things in that list reference both USC (the US Code, where criminal law is defined) and CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations, which is where all administrative regulations go). When those two interact, things often go wrong.
If you want to understand more about this, I highly
recommend you read Nathan Burney's explanation of it in his wonderful Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law: http://lawcomic.net/guide/?p=1008
(In fact, if you want to know about the basics of criminal law, you should go over and read his entire series right now, because Burney is an amazingly good explainer)
Now, back to our original tweet: There's one more odd thing about this, which I noticed when looking up exactly what 50 CFR §20.21(a) says:
"No persons shall take migratory game birds:
(a) With a trap, snare, net, rifle, pistol, swivel gun, shotgun larger than 10 gauge, punt gun, battery gun, machinegun,
fish hook, poison, drug, explosive, or stupefying substance;"
I am trying to imagine the sequence of events that led to people deciding that we needed a Federal law specifically banning people from hunting birds with battery guns
or machine guns.
I am certain that there is a good story behind this, and I am equally certain that I'm glad I was very far away when this story happened.