Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo's Accidental Crime

New York's governor shouldn't be punished for unknowingly breaking the law, and neither should anyone else.


During a visit to the Adirondacks last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recalled retrieving a feather shed by an eagle that "swooped down right next to us with this beautiful, graceful glide" as he was canoeing with his family on Lake Saranac. Cuomo did not realize he was confessing to a crime.

As the Associated Press pointed out, picking up that feather was a federal offense, punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to a year in prison. Cuomo, who said he would remedy the situation by returning the feather to the lake or surrendering it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, clearly does not expect to be punished for a crime he committed inadvertently, and therein lies a lesson he should take to heart.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits the collection and possession of eagle parts, including feathers, except by Native Americans for religious purposes. A defendant can be convicted if he collected or possessed a feather "knowingly" or "with wanton disregard for the consequences of his act."

Cuomo's actions meet that requirement, since he clearly knew the feather came from an eagle, even if he did not know collecting it was against the law. As animal law attorney Rebecca Wisch notes, "The statute does not distinguish innocent possession, or possession without knowledge of the illegality, from possession with knowledge of the eagle's protected status."

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act goes even further, making it a misdemeanor to possess a feather from any of more than 1,000 species, without regard to intent or knowledge. The upshot is that a bluebird feather your kid picked up in the yard theoretically could earn you six months in jail.

Cuomo, who served four years as New York's attorney general, no doubt is familiar with the old legal saw that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." But in truth, ignorance of the law is a pretty good excuse, especially when the law is obscure and criminalizes actions that are not inherently wrongful.

By establishing strong standards for mens rea, the state of mind necessary to be convicted of a crime, legislators can prevent the manifest injustice of punishing people for unknowingly breaking the law. That is the goal of legislation such as the Mens Rea Reform Act introduced last month by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

While Cuomo is no doubt happy to escape punishment for unintentionally committing a crime, he seems less keen on extending that dispensation to others. As attorney general, he made liberal use of the Martin Act, which allows convictions for securities fraud without proof of intent, and advocated expanding the law to health care.

As governor, Cuomo championed the so-called SAFE Act, which turned legal gun owners into criminals if they failed to register semi-automatic rifles with certain arbitrarily selected features. The same law banned possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and made it a crime to put more than seven rounds in a 10-round magazine, although a federal appeals court overturned the latter provision in 2015.

The SAFE Act's penalties apply whether or not an offender knows he is breaking the law. As the New York State Sheriffs' Association noted, "Nothing in the law requires one to know that he or she is in possession of a magazine or a rifle that falls within the proscriptions."

The same goes for the implements covered by New York's "gravity knife" ban, which the NYPD has interpreted to include tools openly sold by stores such as Home Depot and routinely carried by plumbers, carpenters, carpet layers, and dry wall installers. About 5,000 New Yorkers are arrested every year for violating this law, typically without criminal intent. Cuomo has twice vetoed bills aimed at correcting this injustice.

Cuomo's position on mens rea seems clear. He believes criminal intent should be required for a criminal conviction, but only when he's the person breaking the law.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Fuck these politicians and their double standards. Rule of law requires all people be treated the same.

    The problem is too many laws and elites that think the law does not apply to them.

    Charge him with a federal crime and hammer him. Just like he demands of the peons that get draged throught the NY crimnal justice system.

    Politicians pushed for mens rea to be ignored for most crimes, so fuck the politicians. Hold them to the same standard.

    1. The problem is too many laws and elites that think the law does not apply to them.

      Actually, many laws specifically exempt the elites. So the law literally does not apply to them.

      1. You’re right on that. Police probably get the most exemptions.

        Those state no cell phone use while driving laws typically exempt utility workers and police.

        If it was about safety, then everyone who drives needs to avoid distracted driving.

        1. They get training. Training makes the special. Training. Traaaaaiiiiiinnnniiiinnnng.

          1. Bugs me even more that distracted driving is against the law in most states.

            That covers anything that distracts you from driving safely. Eating, talking, messing with the radio, using cell phones….

            The cell phone laws were to distract from the fact that the state gives away drivers license nowadays. A shocking number of drivers dont know the rules of the road.

            With that being said, I think no driving license should be required by the state. People are responsible for being good drivers and exercising due regard for other drivers and people and property they might encounter.

            Clearly the requirement to have driving licenses doesnt make better drivers.

            1. Some people are good drivers, and some people are not. That’s just the way it is. Some people can talk on the phone and remain aware of their surroundings, while others aren’t aware of their surroundings to begin with.

              I’ve known people who got their license suspended, kept on driving, and kept on getting caught. Why? They were lousy drivers. They did not have the awareness and motor skills to safely pilot a two thousand pound metal box on wheels.

              So I’m mixed on the idea of licenses to drive. On the one hand there are people who should not drive. Period. However weeding them out is problematic because laws are supposed to treat everyone the same. How do you differentiate between people who can safely drive, and those who cannot? The parallel parking test obviously doesn’t do it.

              On the other hand, liberty means doing what you please as long as you don’t harm the life, liberty, or property of others. Using licenses as a precautionary measure to stop bad drivers from doing harm goes against that principle.

              Either way, taking someone’s license away doesn’t stop them from driving.

              I dunno.

              1. Some people are good drivers, and some people are not.

                We all know who the people who can’t drive are…

                Seriously though, I have a niece who’s on her, I think, 5th car in ~ 3 years. What happened to the first 4, you ask? She wrecked them. And only one of the accidents was deemed not her fault because the other driver rear ended her, although I wouldn’t be surprised if she did something stupid like slam on her breaks to avoid hitting a squirrel or something. And yet somehow she still has her license.

                1. Cynical, I had a stupid young chick hit me after she ran a red light. We let her off easy without a police report because nothing but minor property damage. MY excellent driving skills prevented a serious accident.

                  NEVER again! Bitch lied and committed insurance fraud. She fucked with the wrong legal professional and got arrested for insurance fraud and her family’s insurance went way up.

                2. I’m shocked there’s anyone who will insure her any longer.

                  How does she afford all those new cars?

                  1. Instagram “Influencer”

                3. It’s called the Magoo effect.

              2. “Using licenses as a precautionary measure to stop bad drivers from doing harm goes against that principle.”

                Definitely agree with you.

                Plus, drivers licenses that most Americans need because we’re a driving country easily allow the state to end run the American disapproval of a National ID.

                Thanks for the good discussion.

                1. So no license requirement for the driver of the 40-ton rig that’s riding your bumper?

                  Meh. I agree too that driver’s licenses are used way too much as a political tool, to try to control behavior. As you say, we’re a driving country– easy political target.

                  But at *some* point along the spectrum of public safety risk, conditional prior restraint does become appropriate.

              3. Where can you buy a 2000-lb car?

        2. Forget fucking cell phones, the cops around here (and I presume other places) drive around typing shit on their fucking console mounted laptops.

    2. “He’s a criminal. He violated ‘our’ laws. Deez is a nation of lawz! No amnesty for criminals! If you don’t like the law, ask Congress to change it! DEPORT THEM ALL! THEY SHALL NOT REPLACE US! THEY SHALL NOT REPLACE US! THEY SH…”

      (And then, the orderly injected a cocktail of tranquilizers inside the arm of the Trumpista while leading him to the nice, padded room.)

      1. “And ship his children across the country into oblivion!”

        (Thanks, Sarc.)

      2. Of violations of immigration law by illegals should result in deportation.

        Buh bye, non-Americans.

      3. Golly, old MexiDouche, could you be so kind to give us a list of laws YOU approve of, so we know which ones are ok?

    3. Agree completely. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving individual. I only wish the potential penalty were even more ridiculous. Cuomo getting 5 years in the Federal slam for picking up something that had literally just fallen from the sky would be a reasonable start on poetic justice.

    4. Woman who gave Hillary a dreamcatcher made with roadkill feathers prosecuted. and convicted. Bubba realizing five years later how this would look pardoned her.

    5. ok, return the feather and 2… no 3 throat punches, and a hail mary.

  2. NY violates the 2nd amendment which prohibits the infringement of the right of the people to keep and bear Arms. All Arms, including knives, guns, grenades, swords, rifles, ships, tanks….

    1. I have no problem with the ships or tanks. It’s not like those are cheap to purchase or maintain.

  3. These laws regarding feathers seem silly today, and they are, but the millinery trade at the end of the 19th century threatened bird populations and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was necessary to prevent the extinction of many migratory species.

    1. Ever hear of a guy named Darwin?

    2. Latest ‘This American Life’ episode covered this theft of birds from a museum collection for the purpose of fly-tying.

    3. Picking up feathers naturally shed by birds hardly threatens their extinction. If the concern is people lying about feathers having been naturally shed, couldn’t evidence regarding the quantity of feathers possessed relative to the quantity of shed feathers the person would be likely to encounter be used? Or, since this is a federal law, restrict it to feathers used in interstate commerce? BTW, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was the focus of the case of Missouri v. Holland, which seems to authorize the United States to use the treaty-making power to make laws that it otherwise would not have the power to make, if it first agrees by treaty with another nation to do so. That’s an idea that, to say the least, remains controversial. But since the treaty only dealt with laws “regulating the capturing, killing, or selling of protected migratory birds” and not the picking up of shed feathers, perhaps even that doesn’t authorize making a federal crime out of picking up a feather.

  4. If I believe that I have been a Native American for my past ten lives in a row… Channeling Shirley McClain here, I am… Then SHIRLEY I will be allowed… Even if I just happen to be white-skinned this lifetime, but still clinging to my Native-American-type beliefs… Then SHIRLEY I will be allowed to keep an eagle feather that falls into my back yard? Shirley?!?!

    (Don’t call me Shirley!!!)

  5. Give him 48 hours to turn himself in, then send US Marshals to collect him if he doesn’t.
    Give him the maximum penalty, including prison time.
    If he’s uncooperative in any way, shoot him dead.

    1. Now do Manafort.

        1. Lefties know that Manafort will be acquitted.

          1. What evidence do you have to rebut the evidence that Manafort cheated on his taxes and lied on the loan applications?

            1. What evidence (beyond a reasonable doubt) do you have that Manafort intentionally cheated on his taxes and lied on loan applications to a criminal degree?

              What do these charges from Mueller have to do with Russians trying to steal the election for Hillary?

            2. So youre saying you’re too dumb to understand how our criminal judicial system works.

              The prosecution basically gave immunity to everyone they could prove committee a crime around manafort. Not a single bit of direct evidence manafort committed crimes. All the signature on forms were gates or the others with immunity.

              Manafort doesnt have to prove anything, only the prosecution does.

              1. Not in the mind of the progtarded Jesse. Manafort has committed the capital crime of having worked briefly on the Trump campaign. So he must be destroyed. No questions asked.

            3. They didn’t throw the Treasury Secretary in jail for tax evasion, they put him in charge of the IRS, but that was 2008 and times were different.

              1. Statute of limitations isn’t up on that. The Manafort case sets a precedent that means Tim Geitner must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

      1. Why? Manafort is already standing trial for bullshit process crimes. What else do you wan to do to the man?

        For the unpardonable sin of having worked for Trump briefly, right Lizard?

  6. Luckily, I am a Native American.

    I was the first born in the US to a family that fled Mussolini’s Italy in 1937.

    Can I have a feather?

  7. New York’s governor shouldn’t be punished for unknowingly breaking the law, and neither should anyone else.

    People in government should absolutely be punished for unknowingly breaking the law, so they know what it’s like to be one of their subjects.

  8. Perhaps Cuomo is acknowledging that politicians are stupider than normal people. If so I can go along with him on that, although it calls into question his belief that he should rule over normal people.

  9. Ship the feather to Liz Warren. Problem solved.

  10. Jacob actually believes that the political elite are going to subject themselves to the same treatment under the law that us non-elites are subject to? Really? I think he needs some water and an ice bag on his head, because he’s obviously been out in the hot August sun too long.

  11. “except by Native Americans for religious purposes”

    So the law is unconstitutionally racist, as well as establishing a religion?

    (BTW, according to the infallible Wiki, Cuomo is a native american, born in New York City)

    1. Don’t you understand that “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” means that you have to single out certain people and certain religious practices?

  12. He can get out of it by claiming he has high cheek bones.

    1. One way to get rid of many of these Nanny-State laws is to strictly enforce all of them on everyone.

      “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”
      -Abraham Lincoln

  13. The law is unconstitutional in my opinion. How do they get away with killing ducks and collecting their body parts but it’s a crime to pick up a feather that would rot away otherwise. Plz motherfuckers.

    1. Less bald eagles and national bird is likely the reason.

      DDT was banned supposedly because large bird eggs had thinner eggshells. I doubt you complained about that ban.

      1. Except the law criminalizes conduct that has no causal relationship to the stated goal of protecting birds. You could even argue that associating eagles with an unconstitutional law makes people more likely to resent protecting eagles in the first place thus further defeating the claimed purpose of the law.

        1. The state cannot always catch you killing the Bald Eagles, so its easier to legally assume you having an Eagle feather means that YOU killed the bird.

          The state has police powers and America wants to protect Bald Eagles. The Lefties use state ‘death to violator’ protections for all sorts of animals. If it was just Bald Eagles, it could be okay.

          The lefties are just upset because Cuomo broke the law and might be held with his feet to the fire.

          1. Exactly. Anyone who killed an eagle and kept the parts would otherwise just claim he found it that way. Like ivory from elephants that died of natural causes, which is indistinguishable from ivory poached from elephants killed for their ivory, eagle feathers that fell off a bird naturally is indistinguishable from feathers from a bird of prey killed by poachers. Possession is presumptive of the poaching.

            Heck, even normal everyday fishing regulations include prohibitions against poaching. For example if there’s a size limit or limit on number of fish per species, you’re required to keep the fish intact enough to prove the size, count, and species. Filet a fish on the boat while you’re still fishing and get inspected by DEC, they’ll assume you kept an illegal fish and will fine you.

  14. Cuomo, who said he would remedy the situation by returning the feather to the lake

    would then be prolonging his illegal possession. The man is obviously unrepentant and should be charged with a Federal Hate Crime.

  15. Normally I would agree, except that it’s scumbags like Cuomo who pass these kinds of laws and relish punishing regular citizens who violate them. So fuck him.

  16. We a water bowl hunter in have to know a maryid amount of laws to be safe from the game warden. Accidentally having a .22 shell in the bottom of your boat is enough to get a big fine. So,screw him.

  17. In the early 1900s people were killing birds en mass to collect feathers for women’s hats. Has these laws not been in place then w could have lost many bird species. These laws are needed to protect our wildlife as much today as 100 years ago.

    1. But can’t you see how ridiculous it is to associate “picking up the odd feather” with “killing birds on mass to collect feathers for women’s hats”.

      1. Someone could kill birds and claim to have found the feathers on the ground. Only way to be sure is to outlaw the collecting of feathers.

        1. That’s just shitty logic. If there’s not enough evidence to prove someone was killing birds then you’re shit out of luck. Punishing innocent people to make it easier to catch the bird killers is the road to hell.

          1. Shitty logic prevails in government.

            1. I’m convinced.

          2. That’s just shitty logic.

            We’re talking about the federal government here. What did you expect? If it weren’t for shitty logic they’d have no logic at all.

    2. @MollyGodiva: Can you cite any of these laws that you claim were in place in the early 1900s, and that prohibited even picking up a shed feather?

  18. Fuck Cuomo.

  19. If we wouldn’t want to see a non-politician charged under this law, then we shouldn’t desire to see a politician charged under this law.

    1. Because we don’t want to see a non-politician charged under this law, we absolutely want to see a politician charged under this law. Because it’s the only possible way it will ever get repealed.

  20. FYI cat owners. If your cat goes outside and kills birds, you could be charged with a felony.

  21. Cuomo’s position on mens rea seems clear. He believes criminal intent should be required for a criminal conviction, but only when he’s the person breaking the law.

    Mens rea for me, but not for thee… laws are for little people… some animals are more equal than others… etc.

  22. The Cuomo genetics carry strong douchbag traits.

  23. I’m more concerned about Cuomo’s deliberate crimes. Like forcing NY based financial services companies to drop the NRA as a customer or be subject to abusive regulatory actions.

    1. Bret, let’s be honest. Almost the entire Cuomo family should be summarily executed for their crimes against the universe.

      1. I’d require a trial, first.

      2. What, there’s a whole family of them!?! “Take off and nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.”

  24. Look up the plight of any number of gun owners who did everything TSA asked of them when the checked their guns as baggage and had no intention of being in NY except as they transited the airport making a connection, but got left in the lurch when their connection out of JFK or LaGuardia was cancelled. Many people have gone to jail because NYS and NYC throw the book at people who were unaware of the laws–they thought they did everything right–and had no intention of breaking any laws and would not have broken any laws except for the airline’s failures.

    I say AG Jeff Sessions should have the Gov. clamped in irons and subject him to the fullest possible extent of federal law enforcement, which extends to 1 year in federal prison and $100,000 fine. “I’ll put it back in the lake?” Please, my ass!

  25. But in truth, ignorance of the law is a pretty good excuse, especially when the law is obscure and criminalizes actions that are not inherently wrongful.

    The phrase ‘inherently wrongful’ seems to indicate that the author believes in some sort of absolute truth and righteousness. Odd, since moral relativism seems to be the norm for Reason authors.

    To a rabid environmentalist or hardcore nationalist, just for example, putting people like Cuomo in jail for picking up feathers is the moral thing to do.

    Obviously I agree that making things like picking up a feather illegal is an insane law, but since you can just pay the $5,000 it seems fair to say that it’s designed to only punish poor people just like every other thought crime. Even if Cuomo was guilty as sin of this ‘crime’ he would absolutely not be in any real danger of anything other than losing his weekend fun money.

    1. rabid environmentalist or hardcore nationalist – these are the people that prevent citizens from walking through certain areas of some national park service lands while exempting themselves. They have no morals!

  26. CLASSIFIED: Political Hay from Absurd Situation Driven by One Shitty Law in a Universe Filled With Shitty Laws

    Got it. Next?

  27. Good fucking thing Cuomo was not part of Trump’s campaign! Mueller would be on him like white on Senator Byrd’s favorite suit.

  28. Fuck him. Send him to Federal Pound Him in the Ass prison.

  29. Except, Little Andy is fond of telling us how much better he and his associates are than ‘us Deplorables’.
    Not only should he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, he should be made to go on an apology tour to polish his groveling skills.

  30. Wait, wait… you are implying that a politician is a hypocrite?

  31. Prosecute him. Any of us commenting here would be.

  32. To have a law so you cannot pick up and keep a feather seems ridiculous to me.

  33. Nonsense. He should be punished to the full extent of the law. Only when prominent people, and

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