August 9, 2013
A driver in Missouri is travelling the speed limit down a road and sees a police speed trap. After passing the speed trap, he decides to flash his high beams as a way of telling other drivers to “slow down.” Then he get pulled over. For obstruction of justice. That’s right: for telling drivers to slow down, Michael Elli was charged with a felony.
Heritage Foundation legal scholar Evan Bernick argues that Elli’s flicker of light had, if anything, the same intention as the police speed trap:
While reducing the number of speeders may affect the number of speeding tickets that are issued, the purpose of the speed trap—and, indeed, law enforcement more generally—isn’t for cops to have things to do. It’s to prevent people from breaking the law and punishing them when they do. Moreover, it’s not inherently or obviously wrong to caution motorists to avoid activities that will get them pulled over.
Prosecutors ended up dropping the charges, but it is still absurd that Elli had to go through this. And this is only one example of overcriminalization—the treatment of everyday behaviors as criminal offenses—that is occurring across the country.
Criminal law used to focus on inherently wrongful acts like theft and murder, but today an extremely broad range of conduct is criminalized. Visit USA vs. YOU for more cases.
Do you think Michael Elli should have been charged with a felony?