Diverting sewage from a backed up sewage system earns a criminal record for a Washington DC facilities engineer.
The Wall Street Journal reports,
Lawrence Lewis was raised in the projects of Washington, D.C. By the time he was 20, all three of his older brothers had been murdered and his father was dead of a heart attack.
Lawrence Lewis: ‘I got a criminal record from my job—when I thought I was doing the right thing?’
Seeking an escape, he took night classes while working as a janitor for the D.C. school system. He rose to become chief engineer at a military retirement home. He raised his two youngest daughters alone, determined to show them how to lead a crime-free life.
That goal was derailed by blocked toilets.
In 2007, Mr. Lewis and his staff diverted a backed-up sewage system into an outside storm drain—one they long believed was connected to the city’s sewage-treatment system—to prevent flooding in an area where the sickest residents lived. In fact, the storm drain emptied into a creek that ultimately reaches the Potomac River.
Eight months later, Mr. Lewis pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the Clean Water Act. He was given one year’s probation and placed under court-ordered supervision.
“I got a criminal record from my job—when I thought I was doing the right thing?” says Mr. Lewis, 60 years old.
Mr. Lewis was caught in Washington’s four-decade expansion of federal criminal law. Today, there are an estimated 4,500 federal crimes on the books, a significant increase from the three in the Constitution (treason, piracy and counterfeiting). There is an additional, and much larger, number of regulations written to enforce the laws. One of those regulations ensnared Mr. Lewis.
Many of these federal infractions are now easier to prosecute than in the past because of a weakening in a bedrock doctrine of Anglo-American jurisprudence: the principle of mens rea, or “guilty mind,” which holds that a person shouldn’t be convicted if he hasn’t shown an intent to do something wrong. A law without a mens rea requirement tripped up Mr. Lewis…
Oddly enough — and we are not advocating this — but no one has yet even been charged with anything in the 2010 BP oil spill.