Did you know that you could be put in jail for charging your cell phone? Or for hanging your clothes out to dry? These are just two examples of recent events illustrating the burden that overcriminalization puts on the poorest among us.
Late last month, a homeless Floridaman, 28-year-old Darren Kersey, was arrested for charging his cell phone at a public charging station. The charge? “Theft of city utilities.”
Sergeant Anthony Frangioni justified his action in the police report, stating that “theft of city utilities will not be tolerated during this bad economy.”
How much does this so-called theft cost? “Cell phone chargers…run about seven cents a month,” said a spokesperson for Tampa Electric Company.
This arrest is especially questionable since there are free charging stations for electric cars all around the Sarasota area. Thankfully, the judge threw out the case due to a lack of legal justification for the arrest.
Mr. Kersey, who is supporting two daughters, lost the job that he had just started because he couldn’t make the $500 bail. He ended up spending only one night in jail, but it cost him what may have been the opportunity needed to rise out of poverty. He was fired for an unexcused absence.
The Village Board of Great Neck, New York, not to be outdone, has criminalized hanging clothes out to dry. The new ordinance makes hanging clothes out to dry in a front lawn an offense punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 15 days in jail.
Is this to punish those who can’t afford clothes dryers, or to force them to live elsewhere? Is drying clothes on a line such an eyesore that a $1,000 fine and 15 days in jail are appropriate?
On a side note, legislators are constantly forcing “green” down people’s throats. What is more “green” than hanging clothes to dry rather than using an appliance?
Overcriminalization puts everyone at risk of becoming a criminal. It is especially dangerous for those who cannot afford a lawyer who can help them avoid violating the law, or to defend themselves once they are ensnared.
Apparently, prison isn’t just for the bad guys anymore.
David Jackman is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.