Here's a story to really make you question where "criminal" and "justice" fit into the criminal justice system. Zach Bowman is an editor at RoadandTrack.com, an automotive magazine. Last October, he decided to ride a motorcycle in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was closed due to the federal government shutdown. This year, he almost went to jail for it.
Bowman makes light of the situation in an Esquire article last week, but he chronicles an uncomfortable instance of law enforcement going overboard on victimless crime, seemingly just to make an example of someone. He writes:
Rangers don't take kindly to publicly mocking the government shutdown by riding a motorcycle through a closed national park. That's especially true when you write a piece about it. I'd netted three citations for my efforts, including traveling the wrong way on a one-way road, ignoring a public closure, and operating a motor vehicle off of designated trails.
He wasn't putting any lives at risk, since not even the rangers were there. They only found out about Bowman's stunt after he published his article about it. Two weeks passed before the citations came in the mail:
Combined, these were good for up to 18 months of incarceration or $15,000 in fines. To make matters more endearing, the offenses occurred on federal land, which meant each was a genuine misdemeanor, the kind that go in the box under "HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CONVICTED OF A MISDEMEANOR" on job applications and unpleasant conversations with in-laws.
His lawyer worked a deal by which he did community service. "I swapped 40 hours of my life, plus 10 hours of commuting, for two perfect hours in a park I've loved all my life." Those 40 hours were spent scrubbing park bathrooms, among other dirty jobs.
Bowman figures that "everyone should have to deep clean a public toilet at least once, just to get a first-hand feel for how horrible humanity is as a species."
It's great that he documented the shitty experience, but I think he missed the point (and a great metaphor for dealing with government); No one "should have to" do manual labor just because lawmakers couldn't agree on a budget and a few park rangers couldn't take a joke.