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Veteran Faces Jail Time for Good Deed

A former soldier was convicted on Tuesday for illegal possession of a sawed off shotgun because he turned it in to the local authorities after finding it near his home. "I thought it was my duty to hand it in and get it off the streets," said Paul Clarke, who was arrested at the police station where he turned over the weapon.

No evidence contradicted the defendant's testimony that he intended to assist law enforcement officers, and much evidence supported the story. Nonetheless, jurors took only 20 minutes to find Clarke guilty. Why? Because jurors were told that the law under which Clarke was charged was a "strict liability" offense, meaning that Clarke was automatically guilty of illegal possession regardless of his intent. This case is another example of how the erosion of traditional mens rea requirements in the criminal law is leading to the conviction of ordinary citizens.

CLARIFICATION: This incident occurred in England, a fact that should have been mentioned in the original post.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.