Vice President of Criminal Justice Policy
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Marc Levin | August 7, 2012
Yesterday, I issued the following statement upon the conclusion of the year-long drama in which the Department of Justice used the Lacey Act to fine Gibson Guitar $350,000 for importing ebony from Madagascar that was legally harvested, but shipped unfinished:
“The Lacey Act was originally crafted to protect endangered plant and animal species from being illicitly harvested, but it has devolved into an enforcement vehicle that fails to separate legal acts that boost our free-market economy from illicit criminal conduct. The Gibson Guitar investigation has highlighted the urgent and serious need to reform the Lacey Act. Such reforms should include requirements for the prosecution to provide proof the defendant acted intentionally and assurance that any penalties it inflicts are civil, not criminal, unless there is direct physical or economic harm to humans.
“Gibson Guitar’s case has helped to bring public attention to the dangers of overcriminalization, but the legendary guitar manufacturer is far from the only victim. There are countless other cases that also raise troubling questions concerning the over 4,500 federal criminal laws and the failure to require proof of intent before an individual or business can be convicted. Right on Crime is committed to documenting examples of overcriminalization and working with policymakers to advance much-needed reforms.”
On August 24, 2011, Gibson Guitar factories were raided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency ordered workers to go home and confiscated over 100 guitars and boxes of raw materials.
The federal government justified the raid under the Lacey Act-a law originally intended to curb the poaching of endangered species that allows the United States to interpret and enforce criminal laws of other countries.
Gibson imports wood to create fingerboards for their guitars. The wood seized during the raid was harvested legally and was from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier. Moreover, U.S. Customs allowed the shipment to pass through America’s border to Gibson’s factory.
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