One of the most powerful functions government can exercise is holding someone criminally accountable for an action. This can result in a person’s loss of life, liberty, or property. Because of the ramifications that being found guilty of a crime can have, government should ensure that criminal laws are written clearly and unambiguously to ensure they are not unintentionally capturing activities and behaviors that weren’t intended to be criminalized in the first place. Just as important, ensuring that consideration of intent is incorporated into laws that carry a criminal penalty is paramount so that innocent actions do not turn someone into a criminal.

For many offenses, such as murder, arson, or assault, this is generally not an issue. but in the Pelican State, hundreds of activities not traditionally dealt with by the criminal justice system carry criminal penalties. Some are for ordinary business activities and some are downright silly. For example, it is illegal to sell bread in Louisiana unless it contains a state-approved vitamin profile. It is also illegal to ride a bicycle in Louisiana without at least one hand on the handlebars. These offenses may be rarely enforced; nevertheless, these laws can provide the pretext for police to engage citizens who have no malicious intent and are unaware that they are doing anything wrong.

Although almost all states have criminalized behavior not traditionally considered criminal, the Pelican State takes it a step further. Many offenses that statutorily seem to require some form of intent — a pillar of the American criminal justice system — do not in fact protect innocent behavior in practice and merely require the government to prove negligence on the part of the actor. Even more problematic is that Louisiana courts have determined that, for many offenses, merely doing the act is enough to convict an individual, with no regard to their intent — also called “strict liability”.


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