Last week I published an article stating that most people were criminals. I made a point to explain that ordinary behavior has been criminalized and that even if you wanted to, it would be impossible to know everything that has been made illegal in our great nation.
I implied that there was a proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over every American’s head which could fall at any moment and deprive an otherwise moral and upstanding citizen of liberty due to absurd laws that the average person has no chance of knowing. This ever-present danger can snare even the most high-profile of our citizenry. Even the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has unknowingly committed a crime with serious penalties.
Early this month, Governor Cuomo told an endearing story to a reporter about a canoe trip taken with his daughter, Michaela. During the trip, a majestic bald eagle swooped low over their boat and left a feather and a unique memory behind. Mr. Cuomo has kept the feather on his fireplace mantle as a keepsake ever since. Unfortunately, federal law states that Mr. Cuomo should be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to $10,000 for the heinous act. You see, it is a federal crime to take or possess any part of a bald eagle, including feathers. 16 U.S.C. § 668
After the news article ran containing the anecdote of the Governor’s felonious behavior, federal investigators looked into the matter and gave the governor a choice. In lieu of arrest, he could either return the feather to the stream where it was obtained or relinquish it to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife repository where it could be preserved or given to Native American tribes for use in ceremonial activities.
The absurdity of our laws does not end with feathers. There are plenty of other ridiculous ways you could violate federal law. For example, some of them are listed below along the United States Code or Code of Federal Regulations where they can be found:
It is a federal crime to buy a woodpecker. 16 USC §§703, 707 & 50 CFR §10.13
It is a federal crime to use too much hydrogenated sperm oil in food. 21 USC §§331, 333, 342(a)(2)(C)(i), 348(a)(2) & 21 CFR §173.275
It is a federal crime to drink alcohol in the Burger King parking lot at Fort Jackson. 18 USC §1382 & 32 CFR §552.152(b)(6)
It is a federal crime to tow a water-skier from a hang-glider in a national park without a permit. 18 USC §1865 & 36 CFR §3.12(b)
It is a federal crime to have a water fountain on a plane, train, or automobile that travels across state lines which cannot be easily cleaned. 42 USC §271(a) & 21 CFR §1250.85(a)
It is a federal crime to intentionally harass a Mexican wolf without a Mexican wolf harassment permit. 16 USC §1540 & 50 CFR §17.84(k)(3)-(7)(iii)
It is a federal crime to collect a cassius blue butterfly south of I-4 in Florida. It is perfectly legal to collect them north of I-4. 18 USC 1375(b) and 50 CFR 17.47(a)(4)
Finally, it is a federal crime to skydive with a foreign parachute… unless you are a foreign parachutist. Then it’s fine. 49 USC §46316 & 14 CFR §105.49(a)(1)
So rest assured, your federal government has its focus on the issues important to you.
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.