Conspiring to Violate the Lacey Act

By Fisher, Christine | Environmental Law, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Conspiring to Violate the Lacey Act


Fisher, Christine, Environmental Law


I. INTRODUCTION

Despite being this nation's oldest wildlife protection statute, (1) the Lacey Act (2) exists in relative anonymity to the general public. Yet this Act is a valuable federal weapon against illegal wildlife trafficking. (3) Over twelve hundred Lacey Act cases were investigated in fiscal year 2000, more than most other wildlife laws. (4) The Lacey Act prohibits the importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring, or purchasing of "any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation" of a tribal, state, federal, or international law. (5) However, despite the broad scope of the Lacey Act, poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking are still prevalent. (6)

A significant means to combat this problem is found in the federal Conspiracy Act. (7) The federal charge of conspiracy broadens the reach of the Lacey Act by allowing a federal conviction for behavior short of an actual completed Lacey Act offense. The crime of conspiracy occurs when "two or more persons conspire" (8) to violate the Lacey Act. The conspiracy offense can act as further arsenal against wildlife violators. In fact, charging an individual with conspiracy may be considered a graver offense than the contemplated crime (9) and can lead to harsher penalties. (10)

Because illegal wildlife traffickers are often caught before violating the Lacey Act, conspiracy is a way to charge the wrongdoers for committing a crime. Likewise, if a Lacey Act offense is committed, the offenders can be charged with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act in addition to a charge for actually violating the Act. Considering that over $3 billion in profits is made annually by the illegal sector of the international wildlife trade in the United States, (11) conspiracy is a significant tool to aid the Lacey Act in controlling this expansive trade.

A significant problem associated with uncovering and prosecuting a conspiracy, however, is that a conspiracy's essential features are secrecy and concealment. (12) Further, conspiracy is a complex area of the law, and it can be extremely difficult to understand the necessary requirements to convict under the charge.

This Comment seeks to show that adding a conspiracy count to a Lacey Act prosecution will help combat the illegal wildlife trafficking problem. In addition, this Comment provides an explanation of how to convict under the federal Conspiracy Act, as well as under the Lacey Act, and how the statutes work in conjunction.

Part II of this Comment describes the prevalence of illegal wildlife trafficking. Part III addresses the inherent problems with enforcement of the Lacey Act. Part IV explains the elements of a conviction, first under the Lacey Act, then under a federal conspiracy charge, and finally when the two charges are joined. Part V discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using the federal charge of conspiracy with the Lacey Act, and Part VI concludes that conspiracy is an effective charge to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.

II. THE OVERWHELMING PROBLEM OF WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING

Society's awareness of the problem of illegal wildlife trafficking is minimal in comparison to other problems, such as the trafficking of drugs. The United States devotes millions of dollars to the war on drugs, but little mention (or money) is given to the war on illegal wildlife trafficking. (13) Yet, illegally taken wildlife is the second largest trade on the black market, second only to the drug trade. (14) In fact, the prohibited international wildlife market provides more profit than the sale of illegal weapons. (15) The United States is a major competitor in this trade, especially because it imports and exports more wildlife than any other country. (16) The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that anywhere from $100 million to $250 million in illegal wildlife shipments cross the borders of the United States each year. …

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