Proponents of extensive government regulation over research and consumer industries tout their policies as protection against potentially dangerous or harmful behavior; we’ve previously covered silly regulations preventing consumers from engaging in a free economy, and described how these regulations do little to actually protect anyone from anything.

The real problem with these regulations, however, has less to do with the rules themselves, and more to do with the consequences that befall those who break the rules. Groups like Cause of Action help those who fall under the hammer of big government regulation fight back against overcriminalization and in some cases, recoup their losses. They’re currently defending marine biologist Nancy Black after an alleged violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA.)

Via Cause of Action (emphasis mine):

She was criminally charged with violating a Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulation prohibiting feeding marine mammals in the wild. Every other alleged violation of this regulation has resulted in relatively modest fines or, in a recent case with far more egregious facts, forfeiture of an old boat. Here, however, the government’s original charges could have resulted in up to 27 years in prison, a $700,000 fine and forfeiture of her research vessel. Ms. Black’s defense team was able to resolve the case through a no-jail plea agreement in which Ms. Black pled guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of “feeding” for which she received 3 years of probation, a $12,500 fine and 300 hours of community service.

27 years in prison. Loss of livelihood. Did I mention prison?

The point of pointing out this case isn’t to advocate for lawbreaking, or parse out the finer points of the MMPA ; there was a regulation that was believed to have been broken, and attention must to be paid. The point of this is to draw attention to how much power administrative agencies have over our daily lives. As the video points out, most of the regulations implemented by these agencies—including the rule that resulted in potential felony penalties for Nancy Black—are not voted on, are not discussed, and are not presented to the public for examination before they’re put into effect.

Mistakes are made. Ignorance of the law is a reality, even if it is not an excuse; but I think that the regulatory infrastructure’s willingness to treat breaches of administrative conduct as a criminal court would a violent crime deserves more attention than we’ve previously given it.


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