Hillary Clinton got the benefit of mens rea considerations from the FBI, so why doesn’t everyone?
Jacob Sullum writes in the October issue of Reason:
Hillary Clinton supporters should have a new appreciation for the legal concept of mens rea—usually translated as “guilty mind”—because it saved her from federal prosecution for using a personal email server as secretary of state. In recommending that the Justice Department not bring charges against the former first lady, FBI Director James Comey differentiated her “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information” from other cases involving “intentional and willful mishandling.”
Not everyone gets the benefit of such distinctions. Consider the retiree on a snowmobile outing in Colorado who got lost in a blizzard and unwittingly crossed into a National Forest Wilderness Area; the Native Alaskan trapper who sold 10 sea otters to a buyer he mistakenly believed was also a Native Alaskan; and the 11-year-old Virginia girl who rescued a baby woodpecker from her cat.
The first two incidents resulted in misdemeanor and felony convictions, respectively, while the third led to a fine (later rescinded) and threats of prosecution. All three qualify as federal crimes, even though the perpetrators had no idea they were breaking the law.