Yes, These Are Really Federal Crimes

Did you know it’s a federal crime to allow your dog to make noise that might scare wildlife in a national park? Raise your hand if your dog’s barking disturbs no one.


Would you believe us if we told you the feds raided an Amish farm at 5 a.m. once for selling “unauthorized” milk to long-time customers?


Oh, and if you leave Bush Intercontinental with more than $5 in nickels? That’s five years in federal prison.


These offenses may seem absolutely absurd, but they are no joking matter. There are nearly five thousand federal statutes outlining nearly 400,000 regulations – all of which carry criminal penalties.


So yes, there’s an issue with over-criminalization. While many of these outdated and outlandish laws seem funny, there’s a darker side to them.


When someone is charged with these so-called crimes, it is a discretionary matter whether federal prosecutors will take the case to trial. Unfortunately, experience has demonstrated that the exercise of discretion at the arrest level can involve the suppression lawful behavior that an officer simply doesn’t like.


“Bet You Wish You’d Talked To Me Now”


This is the statement allegedly made by an officer while arresting one Alaskan man who he was unable to arrest previously at a festival that day. The man was asked by the officer earlier to put his keg inside his RV.


Because he wasn’t in violation of any law, the man refused to acknowledge the officer. Later, when he did become involved in another situation, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.


This case was a clear example of a federal officer using the law as a means to exercise personal power over a law-abiding citizen with whom the officer took offense.


Law enforcement in Texas have a saying – “get tough on crime” – and for better or worse there are federal crimes they often use to their advantage in much the same way.


A Holding Pattern Under the Guise of Federal Crime


While probable cause is a necessary requisite for a warrantless arrest, “detention” only requires what’s known as “reasonable suspicion.”


This can be a scenario where an officer can point to specific facts that have led them to believe some kind of criminal activity has occurred or about to occur.  Reasonable suspicion creates the authority to detain.




Because detention can escalate into arrest. Usually something develops during the preliminary process of detention that crosses the threshold of probable cause permitting the officer to arrest.


Below, we’re going to outline a handful of laws that seem to be over-used in this way. Before that, though, let’s take a look at exactly what American constitutional law says about it.


Vagueness Doctrine


Under what’s known as the “vagueness doctrine,” a law can be rendered unenforceable when the average citizen is unable to pinpoint, either by obvious understanding or strict definition within its text, what the terms of the law are.


Houston Federal Lawyer

  • An average citizen can’t determine who the law applies to, what conduct isn’t permitted, or what punishment the statute carries.


  • There are so many judges and/or administrators involved that arbitrary prosecution becomes a concern.

Certain requirements must be met before a statute may be voided due to vagueness:


  • An average citizen can’t determine who the law applies to, what conduct isn’t permitted, or what punishment the statute carries.
  • There are so many judges and/or administrators involved that arbitrary prosecution becomes a concern.
  • The concept only applies to criminal or penal law, and those laws which potentially limit constitutional rights.


Below are four statutes that we feel should be “void for vagueness” because they are regularly abused by the police for any number of non-law enforcement reasons.


Federal Statutes That Should Be “Void for Vagueness”


Each of the following federal laws contain language so broad, the average citizen would be hard-pressed to definitively say exactly what conduct is prohibited, and their unnecessary application create the potential for violating a number of our constitutional rights (free speech, for instance).


Disorderly Conduct


While parts of the statute are fairly specific, outlining a number of scenarios could possibly fall within the parameters of the statute, we are specifically interested in a particularly vague section of the law on disorderly conduct.

Apparently it is illegal to “make noise that is unreasonable, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct, location, time of day or night, and other factors” in any location under the legislative jurisdiction of the U.S.


That is more than vague; it is absurd.


Disturbing the Peace


The fine line prosecutors must walk when it comes to disturbing the peace (or breach of peace) has massive potential for First Amendment rights violations.


Although the statute contains a laundry list of prohibited acts, there are a number of them which in themselves are overly vague, and could easily be applied to persons’ actions during a lawful protest, if law enforcement officers felt so inclined.




Loitering laws are probably the most easily abused set of vague laws.


According to MTSU, “Challenges citing vagueness are usually based on the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, while challenges concerning the overly broad language…are usually based on First Amendment Concerns.”


Resisting Arrest


Texas Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

Common knowledge says charges of resisting arrest are used as a “catchall” for any conduct an officer might consider that makes their investigation or arrest more difficult. Often, we see resisting arrest charges unaccompanied by any other charge, indicating the charges were filed by officers angry or frustrated with the subject.


If you feel you have been unlawfully arrested or detained or that your rights have otherwise been violated under this sort of circumstance, don’t settle for a plea deal. A Houston criminal defense attorney experienced in federal law can help.