A Florida woman was slapped with a $750 fine with the threat of more to come if she doesn’t stop offering nutritional advice. The fine was in response to the state’s claim that she was operating as an unlicensed dietitian – even though she never claimed to be a licensed dietitian. Of the many questions that aren’t being asked, one that concerns criminal justice reform advocates most is, “Should these actions have been criminalized in the first place?” The answer is no.
Every American should find this concerning. The woman in question is Heather Kokesch Del Castillo, and her story as an entrepreneur is a familiar one. She embarked on her dream to own her own business after leaving a job that wasn’t fulfilling. Despite California’s reputation for being overly-regulated, the certified holistic health coach did not run in to any occupational licensing barriers while in the Golden State. However, that all changed when she moved to Florida.
Del Castillo moved her business to Florida because that is where the Air Force relocated her husband. Though the business did well, it was forced to shut down two years later, after unwittingly running afoul of the state’s occupational licensing laws. As any entrepreneur will admit, businesses die on their own all the time. The death of a dream is understandably disappointing. However, a dead dream at the hands of overregulation is a very different–and costly–kind of disappointment.
What crime is she really guilty of? Is offering solicited health advice in an era where diabetes is rampant really a crime? If so, what about the people who solicit such advice? Will Florida next make it a crime to ask a health coach for advice? One hopes not, but with state and federal regulations multiplying like gremlins, it’s reasonable to ask, “Where will the line will be drawn?”
The Institute for Justice (IJ), a liberty-oriented public interest law firm, recently took up Del Castillo’s case against the state of Florida. As a means for protecting the First Amendment, IJ is defending the sensible position that, “adults have the right to talk to other adults about what to buy at the grocery store.” It’s reform groups like IJ that help prevent state and federal governments from doling out fines to unsuspecting Americans for actions that should never have been criminalized in the first place. Such occupational licensing laws, under the guise of leveling the playing field, are instead criminalizing broad swaths of mundane behavior.
If Del Castillo had been advertising her services with verbiage that untruthfully made claim of possessing a dietitian license, Florida would be right to issue a fine. That’s the sort of unscrupulous business behavior that’s appropriately subject to potential regulation—and perhaps through civil action. Instead, Del Castillo was merely targeted by her competition and forced out of business. The only other option was to embark on the extensive journey of earning a bachelor’s degree in the appropriate field, completing 900 hours of supervised practice, taking a test, and paying fees. That’s what Florida’s dietitian license requires.
Though concerned by Castillo’s case, we’re far from discouraged about the outlook for regulatory reform in the U.S. Overcriminalization is something that is popping up again and again – especially at the federal level. For instance, just this past week, Congress reintroduced two criminal justice reform bills that uniquely address the issue of overcriminalization. With these bills, Congress has an immense opportunity to change the landscape of America’s justice system.