With the proliferation of laws and regulations passed by
federal, state and local governments every year, it is nearly impossible for
the average citizen to know if they are in compliance with the law. This regrettable
situation is made worse by the recent trend of criminalizing non-compliance with statutes.
A recent study by the National Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers and the Heritage Foundation examined all the non-violent,
non-drug-related offenses introduced by Congress in 2005 and
2006. The researchers found that of the laws enacted, 64 percent contained
inadequate requirements to show intent to violate the law — a
requirement that has underpinned American criminal justice for centuries. The
study also found that legislative language was often so vague and imprecise that
even most lawyers could not determine what specific conduct was regulated.
Wetland law in Michigan is a good example of how innocent
property owners can be criminally charged with violating wetland laws that they
cannot understand. The definition of Michigan wetland law is so broad that even
state regulators and wetland experts often disagree on what constitutes a
wetland. There are numerous cases in the state where property owners have been
criminally charged with filling a wetland when they had no idea their property
even contained a wetland.
Lawmakers should strike all criminal language from state wetland
statutes. Until the Department of Environmental Quality specifically identifies all the wetlands on private
property in the state, private property owners in the state are subject to
criminal prosecution — a threat to liberty that every should concern
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