It use to be that violating federal law in American required deceit, fraud, illegal drugs, unlawful firearms or violent acts and at least an intent to do a criminal act combined with forethought and planning, but now it's easy to become a federal fugitive in America.
Just unlock a cell phone without the permission of your cell phone carrier and you could have the FBI knocking at your door as you fumble for the number of your favorite Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will grimly note that a first offense carries a punishment of up to five years imprisonment and $500,000 fine with a second time punished by up to ten years in federal prison and a $1,000,000 fine.
How will the actual sentences be determined? The federal sentencing guidelines will be used to find out exactly what the recommended sentence is that the Federal District Judge will impose.
How does the continuing process of overly-broad statutes, technical charges and over-criminalization of American criminal law move forward?
Because an indifferent, inept Congress not only bends to the will of powerful special interest donors such as the cell phone carriers rather than to what is best for Americans, but also Congress allows federal criminal laws to come into existence without actually codifying the act as a crime.
As the Atlantic Magazine notes, a major cause of the problem in this instance was that Congress shifted responsibility for exceptions to copyright law to bureaucrats who allowed cell phone unlocking to become a federal crime even if Congress did not intend it.
Until unlocking a cell phone was recently made into a grave federal crime, the Federal Courts ruled that it was permissible for anyone to jailbreak a phone, as the property rights to the phone belong to the buyer not the carrier.
What is the real impact of this law? We know Federal prosecutors can not be entrusted to use their discretion. Although many prosecutors may not waste resources prosecuting mere cell phone unlocking Americans, anyone who violates the provisions of this act is in fact subject to possible criminal penalties if convicted.
But prosecutors routinely abuse the power they've already accumulated to the detriment of good Federal judges ability to give fair, reasonable and enlightened sentences.
The real question for Federal criminal defense lawyers is how many Americans will find their lives ruined once ensnared by this foolish new criminal law?