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Federal Food Crimes Can Result in Punishment Even Without Intent

Although such “crimes” rarely make headlines, federal food crimes offer a glimpse of the type of punishment that can befall individuals who may not even intend to commit a crime. The federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) was first passed in 1938 in response to a public demand for greater food safety for the public.

Felony and Misdemeanor Food Crimes – Was the Act Intentional?

Under the law, it is unlawful for an individual to adulterate (that is, prepare, package, or store a food product in conditions where it may have become contaminated) or misbrand a food, drug, or device, or put adulterated or misbranded food, drugs, or devices into the stream of interstate commerce. Where a person does this with an intent to defraud or mislead another, the crime is considered a felony and can result in millions of dollars in fines and lengthy prison sentences.

What happens if an adulterated or misbranded food, drug, or device enters interstate commerce or leaves a production facility but the person in charge of the facility or operation was simply careless, lacking the intention to defraud or mislead someone? Logic might suggest that a person in this situation would not face any criminal liability – after all, he or she did not mean to do anything wrong. But under the FDCA, the person in this hypothetical situation would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be sentenced up to one year in jail and fined up to $250,000.

What is a “Strict Liability” Crime?

The misdemeanor violation of the FDCA is but one example of a federal “strict liability” crime. It is called a “strict liability” crime because a person is criminally responsible once the prohibited act occurs, regardless of his or her intention. A common example of strict liability crimes is a speeding offense – you can be found guilty of speeding without the government prosecutors proving that you intended to speed. In fact, it does not matter if you had a good excuse to speed – the fact that you did speed is enough to make you responsible for the associated fine.

The Federal Government’s Increasing Obsession with Strict Liability Crimes

When you are held strictly liable for speeding, the worst that will likely happen is that you must pay a fine and your insurance premium may go up. But when you are held strictly liable for a crime that can result in jail time, then the situation begins to appear unfair. Yet the federal government appears to be trying to make more and more crimes, including additional “strict liability” offenses.

This underscores the necessity of obtaining skilled and knowledgeable federal criminal defense counsel as soon as you are charged with a federal offense. Even in cases involving a strict liability federal crime, you may have defenses available to you. Federal criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner will advocate forcefully on your behalf and hold the government to its burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Contact his office at (305) 670-9919 to schedule your free initial case review today.

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