Below are a few cases that highlight the problem of overcriminalization.  Other cases are discussed in the Articles section of this site.

Huntress v. United States

Originally published at the Cato Institute Nov 2, 2020 by Ilya Shapiro and William Yeatman To an unfortunate extent, the modern administrative state has expanded into criminal law enforcement. Many federal regulatory statutes—including those governing antitrust, securities, and the environment—authorize agencies to pursue both civil and criminal penalties. Thus, more than 300,000 federal regulations have… Continue Reading

Robertson v. United States

Originally published at
Joseph Robertson dug ditches to collect water from a rivulet that ran through his private property. In the process some dirt got into the rivulet, which emptied into a local stream, which emptied into a state river, which entered a river that crossed state lines. The Army Corps of Engineers charged Robertson under the Clean Water Act (CWA) with criminal sanctions for failing to get a permit for the “dumping” of “dredge and fill” into interstate waters. Continue Reading

United States v. Lawrence Lewis

In 2012,  Lawrence Lewis, an engineer from Washington D.C., was arrested after unknowingly violating the Clean Water Act while doing his job. While most people know when they commit a crime, there are also countless instances where Americans unknowingly break the law while performing what they assume are normal everyday tasks. Worse still, there have… Continue Reading

United States v. Clay

Recent Case Update:On January 20, 2021, Todd Farha and other WellCare executives were pardoned by President Trump.  Due to a change in Department of Justice Policy, the WellCare case would not even be charged today.  In 2018, DOJ revised its charging decision policies to reflect that criminal enforcement actions must be based on violations of applicable… Continue Reading

Vascular Solutions Fights Overzealous DOJ Prosecution

There is such an unbelievable proliferation of legislation and regulations across the United States, whether federal or state-based, that it can be difficult for companies to know when they might be running afoul of the law. It could be a relatively new piece of legislation that businesses are not aware of, or an obscure law… Continue Reading

Ellison v. United States

Originally published at Cato Institute by Ilya Shapiro and Reilly Stephens | March 14, 2018
Can the government convict you of a crime without showing you had any understanding of the wrongdoing? Mark Ellison was convicted without any such showing and is asking the Supreme Court to take his case. Continue Reading

Of Rotten Eggs and Guilty Minds- United States v. Quality Egg

Originally published at The Cato Institute by Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer | July 30, 2015
It isn’t every day that a person can go to his or her job, work, not participate in any criminal activity, and still get a prison sentence. At least, that used to be the case: the overcriminalization of regulatory violations has unfortunately led to the circumstance that corporate managers now face criminal—not just civil—liability for their business operations’ administrative offenses.
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Elonis v. United States and the Mens Rea Debate

Originally published at National Review by Jonathan Keim | June 3, 2015
On Monday the Supreme Court did something interesting in Elonis v. United States, a case about the interstate threat statute and its application to Facebook status messages. Although widely viewed as a case with great significance for the First Amendment’s application to social networking, the Court sidestepped the constitutional question and dove straight for the overcriminalization issue: default mens rea.
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Yates v. United States

Originally published at | February 25, 2015
In early 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Yates v. United States. Previously written about on these pages, the case arose when Mr. Yates was accused of violating the anti-document shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, legislation passed shortly after the 2001 Enron scandal, for throwing three undersized red grouper overboard after an encounter with Florida Fish and Wildlife.
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