Trigger Finger is directing us to Michael Bane, who used his connections within the gun industry to bring CNN's violation to the attention of the ATF has some shocking news to report.
By now, the upper echelons of the ATF have been made aware of the CNN violations. My contacts told me there was very little chance the agency would move against CNN because of "intent" — there was no intent to violate the law.
Sorry Michael, but your contacts at the ATF are full of shit. I highly doubt this was a serious response, and if indeed it was their reaction, I think it is more along the lines of someone trying to pass the buck on what will undoubtably be a politically charged prosecution.
The simple fact is that CNN didn't commit a common law crime, where mens rea is an element of guilt. No, instead they violated a statute that provides for strict liability, ir-regardless of intent. Your reading is correct Michael. As David Kopel, in his excellent article Trust The People: The Case Against Gun Control discusses,
Lack of criminal intent does not shield a citizen from the BATF. In United States v. Thomas, the defendant found a 16- inch-long gun while horseback riding. Taking it to be an antique pistol, he pawned it. But it turned out to be short-barreled rifle, which should have been registered before selling. Although the prosecutor conceded that Thomas lacked criminal intent, he was convicted of a felony anyway. The Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Freed declared that criminal intent was not necessary for a conviction of violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968.
In Freed, 401 U.S. 601 (1971), the Supreme Court was very clear about the strict liability inherent in the Gun Control Act of 1968
In United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 284, a case dealing with the imposition of a penalty on a corporate officer whose firm shipped adulterated and misbranded drugs in violation of the Food and Drug Act, we approved the penalty "though consciousness of wrong-doing be totally wanting."Emphasis Mine.
The present case is in the category neither of Lambert nor Morissette, but is closer to Dotterweich. This is a regulatory measure in the interest of the public safety, which may well be premised on the theory that one would hardly be surprised to learn that possession of hand grenades is not an innocent act.[fn14] They are highly dangerous offensive weapons, no less dangerous than the narcotics involved in United States v. Balint, 258 U.S. 250, 254, where a defendant was convicted of sale of narcotics against his claim that he did not know the drugs were covered by a federal act. We say with Chief Justice Taft in that case:
"It is very evident from a reading of it that the emphasis of the section is in securing a close supervision of the business of dealing in these dangerous drugs by the taxing officers of the Government and that it merely uses a criminal penalty to secure recorded evidence of the disposition of such drugs as a means of taxing and restraining the traffic. Its manifest purpose is to require every person dealing in drugs to ascertain at his peril whether that which he sells comes within the inhibition of the statute, Page 610 and if he sells the inhibited drug in ignorance of its character, to penalize him. Congress weighed the possible injustice of subjecting an innocent seller to a penalty against the evil of exposing innocent purchasers to danger from the drug, and concluded that the latter was the result preferably to be avoided." Id., at 253-254.
If they violated it, they are guilty. Its an open and shut case. Either the facts are there, or they are not (I still haven't seen the video, so I don't know). However, for an ATF agent to suddenly claim that "intent" matters is simply incredible. I wonder if we can get them to put that in a written opinion?