Burden of Proof - The Fisherman

Burden of Proof

So I’m walking down the street in my favorite Irish tweed cap, the one my buddy refers to as the “soup” hat. Strolling along, minding my own business, a police officer stops me and says “hey pal, you got a receipt for the bowl of soup that came with that free hat?”

Everyone’s a comedian. “No sir Officer Dangerfield, I’ve had this hat for quite some time,” I reply, doffing the cap respectfully towards the local constable.

“Well that just won’t do,” he said while pulling handcuffs from his belt. “With no proof of purchase, I’ll have to assume you stole it.”

Enforcement officers have taken a lot of grief in the United States in recent years, far more than is deserved considering the personal position in which they’re placed everyday as part of a noble and courageous profession. And while it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a cop would even want to randomly stop someone to check relevant papers for personal possession, our friends in blue are often put into these precarious positions because of laws written by agenda-driven attorneys elected by the people.

Consider for example New Jersey state senators Ray Lesniak (District 20, Union County) and Jim Whelan (District 2, Atlantic County) who shepherded bill number S2044 through Trenton to prohibit certain possession, sale, trade, or distribution of shark fins. Theoretically, the bill attempts to illegalize the sale of shark fins in New Jersey; as such it sailed through the state Senate by a 32-7 vote in 2016. Without similar action in the state Assembly however, that half-passed legislation languished in the New Jersey State House for more than a year.

In December with just days remaining on the 2016-2017 legislative session, Assembly representatives Reed Gusciora (District 15 in Hunterdon and Mercer), Herb Conaway, Jr. (District 7 in Burlington), and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (District 31 in Hudson) ramped up efforts to get their version, A3945, voted upon and onto the governor’s desk for signature before the new swearing in ceremony on January 16. Before what would’ve become an infamous vote on the Assembly floor on December 7, the bill was thankfully pulled from the docket.

Here’s the problem; it seems these state legislators have forgotten, or simply didn’t care about the U.S. Constitution and the state’s responsibility for “burden of proof” in a criminal case. As written, S2044/A3945 would’ve made it illegal to “possess any shark fin that has been separated from a shark prior to its lawful landing” in the state of New Jersey. Sure, you could bring a lawfully harvested mako back to the dock, steak it out amongst friends, and take possession of the fins so long as you weren’t selling them. However, if you were caught with a mako fin in the marina parking lot, on the way home or perhaps even in your home, you’d have to prove that fin wasn’t separated prior to landing.

To make it easier for prosecutors and judges to levy action against fishermen, these legislators and those members of the state Senate who voted in favor of the bill also supported language that states, “The burden of proof shall be on the person in possession of the shark fin to demonstrate that it was not separated from the shark prior to its lawful landing.”

In the old days – when American politicians honored the U.S. Constitution – the “burden of proof” would fall upon the state and the prosecution when making their case before the court. State Senators Lesniak and Whelan, along with assembly reps Gusciora, Conaway, and Chiaravalloti, have clearly attempted to turn fishing into a litmus test for burden of proof, hoping to rewrite legal guidelines to give prosecutors more power over the people in the court of law.

Make no mistake, this bill was not written to stop shark finning; it was written to stop shark fishing. And the “burden of proof” clause authored by the sharks in Trenton would’ve opened a very dangerous door in the State of New Jersey and these United States.

See News Briefs for more on shark fishing in America.

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