Ed Feulner

Federal lawmakers heard first-hand about his ordeal when he testified in 2010 before the House Committee on the Judiciary. He explained how he was found guilty, sentenced to more than eight years in prison, and ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and a $100,000 forfeiture, which he had to re-mortgage his house to be able to pay.

Tragically, Schoenwetter's experience is far from unique. There are:

· The father-and-son arrowhead collectors who are now federal criminals because they unknowingly violated the Archaeological Resources Protection Act 1979.

· The aspiring inventor who spent 15 months in prison for environmental crimes, even though he neither harmed nor intended to harm anyone.

· The Pennsylvania woman who injured her husband’s lover and now faces federal charges related to an international arms-control treaty.

This trend must be reversed. Distinctions must be made between innocent mistakes and deliberate crimes. And ambitious prosecutors must be prevented from using the tens or even hundreds of thousands of criminal offenses contained in federal and state statutes to ruin the lives of ordinary Americans. Otherwise, what happened to Schoenwetter might well happen to any of us someday.

The one-time head of the dreaded Soviet secret police, Lavrentiy Beria, once boasted, “Show me the man, and I'll find you the crime.” We can’t allow such a mindset to transform a once-great criminal-justice system.

Ed Feulner

Dr. Edwin Feulner is Founder of The Heritage Foundation, a Townhall.com Gold Partner, and co-author of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today .
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Ed Feulner's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.