Criminal Justice

You're Probably a Federal Criminal, Too


Last week, Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) held much-needed hearings last on the ever expanding reach and scope of federal law which, given a creative prosecutor and compliant judge, can make a federal criminal out of just about anyone.

One witness who testified at the hearings is convicted federal felon Krister Evertson. The Heritage Foundation's Brian Walsh has a write-up. What happened to Evertson is so outrageous, it merits a lengthy excerpt:

Krister never had so much as a traffic ticket before he was run off the road near his mother's home in Wasilla, Alaska, by SWAT-armored federal agents in large black SUVs training automatic weapons on him.

Evertson, who had been working on clean-energy fuel cells since he was in high school, had no idea what he'd done wrong. It turned out that when he legally sold some sodium (part of his fuel-cell materials) to raise cash, he forgot to put a federally mandated safety sticker on the UPS package he sent to the lawful purchaser.

Krister's lack of a criminal record did nothing to prevent federal agents from ransacking his mother's home in their search for evidence on this oh-so-dangerous criminal.

The good news is that a federal jury in Alaska acquitted Krister of all charges. The jurors saw through the charges and realized that Krister had done nothing wrong.

The bad news, however, is that the feds apparently had it in for Krister. Federal criminal law is so broad that it gave prosecutors a convenient vehicle to use to get their man.

Two years after arresting him, the feds brought an entirely new criminal prosecution against Krister on entirely new grounds. They used the fact that before Krister moved back to Wasilla to care for his 80-year-old mother, he had safely and securely stored all of his fuel-cell materials in Salmon, Idaho.

According to the government, when Krister was in jail in Alaska due to the first unjust charges, he had "abandoned" his fuel-cell materials in Idaho. Unfortunately for Krister, federal lawmakers had included in the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act a provision making it a crime to abandon "hazardous waste." According to the trial judge, the law didn't require prosecutors to prove that Krister had intended to abandon the materials (he hadn't) or that they were waste at all — in reality, they were quite valuable and properly stored away for future use.

With such a broad law, the second jury didn't have much of a choice, and it convicted him. He spent almost two years locked up with real criminals in a federal prison. After he testifies today, he will have to return to his halfway house in Idaho and serve another week before he is released.

So he was convicted of "abandoning" the hazardous materials in Idaho because he was in an Alaska jail awaiting trial on the bogus safety sticker charge for which he was acquitted. But he wasn't allowed to use that in his defense. Nor were prosecutors required to prove that the materials he didn't really abandon were actually waste. Note too the ridiculously paramilitary confrontation and arrest for the non-crime of failing to affix a safety sticker to a UPS package.

Back in 2004, Gene Healy wrote a piece for Reason on the ever-growing federal criminal code.