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Overcriminalization on the high seas



Early this week, the WSJ published an article about Nancy Black, a marine biologist and operator of whale watching boats, who is facing multiple criminal charges that can land her in prison for up to twenty years. Her crime, while surely an oversimplified description, can be boiled down to allegedly lying to federal officials in violation of Title 18, Section 1001 of the U.S. Code.

The WSJ reports:

When one of her boat captains whistled at a humpback whale that approached the boat a few years ago, regulators investigated whether the incident constituted harassment of a whale, which is illegal.

This past January, Ms. Black was charged in the case -- not with whale harassment, but with lying about the incident. She also faces a charge of illegally altering a video of the whale encounter, as well as unrelated allegations involving whale blubber. Together, [all of] the charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

... on a morning in November 2006, more than a dozen federal agents, led by a NOAA inspector, entered her house with a search warrant and took away her files, photos and computers.

In the five years since the raid, Black says she has paid more than $100,000 in legal fees so far. Her lawyer notes that despite years of investigation, the government didn't find evidence to charge Black with wrongdoing.

But that's not all for maritime overcriminalization. A new bill has been introduced in the Senate sponsored by Senator John Kerry (D-MA). S. 2279: R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act of 2012 "makes it a federal crime, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, to disturb, remove or injure Titanic property; engage in activities that threaten public safety; sell, purchase, barter, or import Titanic property, including human remains; or to enter the hull of the sunken vessel."

So if anyone had any plans to scour the Atlantic in search of the Heart of the Ocean, they may want to call off the exploration party. While the blue diamond is fictitious, the effort to institute serious criminal penalties in protecting an already legislatively protected historical site is peculiarly very real.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.