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FOCUS Act Debated in House Committee

| May 11, 2012

This week, H.R. 4171, the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012, or the FOCUS Act, was heard in committee. This legislation is designed to restore the Lacey Act to its original purpose.

The Lacey Act has been in the news lately because it is the legal underpinning for a raid of Gibson Guitar by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. The Act, as codified today, permits criminal charges to be brought in United States courts against anyone accused of violating foreign laws. This brought about a raid and seizure of property from Gibson upon allegations that it imported rosewood from India in supposed violation of Indian law (although Indian officials have questioned the U.S. government’s legal analysis that harvesting the wood is illegal).

Originally, the Lacey Act was intended to have a much more focused purpose—namely, prohibiting the trafficking of illegal game. To that end, the FOCUS Act strips the legislation of its criminal sanctions and the references to foreign laws that have nothing to do with illegal game.

Reports out of the committee hearing show that the testimony was passionate on both sides of the debate, but that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) succinctly summed up the issue: as it stands, the Lacey Act requires every American to know both the criminal and civil laws of every foreign country.

If such a requirement doesn’t need FOCUS, we’re not quite sure what would.

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