We've seen it in the movies and perhaps even witnessed it in person, but most of us never realized it was an offense punishable with lots of prison time.
When Anthony Brasfield released a dozen heart-shaped balloons into the sky over Dania Beach, Fla., for his his sweetheart, all he wanted was to create the perfect atmosphere of romance. What he created instead was a court date.
According to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Brasfield's act of love was witnessed by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper. What he saw was not an act of love but a felony.
Massive jail time for - balloons?
The 40-year-old Brasfield was with his girlfriend, Shaquina Baxter, in the parking lot of a Motel 6 on Dania Beach Boulevard when he released the 12 shiny, red and silver mylar balloons into the sky and watched them float away in the Sunday morning breeze.
But the trooper saw nothing more than probable cause for a crime against the environment. Apparently, lawmakers in the Sunshine State think it's appropriate to treat what should have been, at most, simple littering (to which courts would have issued a fine, maybe?), into a major crime against Mother Nature. As if Florida jails weren't full enough.
The trooper arrested Brasfield and charged him with polluting to harm humans, animals, plants and everything else living under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act.
"Endangered marine turtle species and birds, such as wood storks and brown pelicans, seek refuge in John U. Lloyd State Park, about 1.5 miles east of the motel," said the paper.
As you might imagine, the law is rarely used. According to the Sun-Sentinel, just 21 arrests were made under the environmental statute between 2008 and 2012.
What is amazing, however, is the severity of the crime - it is a third-degree felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. Just as one example, in other parts of the country, people who intentionally or actively work to harm the environment get about the same jail time. (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com)
Granted, it was a violation of the law, but...
It's too early to tell if a Florida court will actually sentence Brasfield to that much time but the fact that someone could be thrown in prison for five years for such a low-level environmental crime is difficult to fathom, especially given what seems to be an obvious fact: That Brasfield was not purposefully demonstrating malice or contempt for the law.
And while ignorance of the law is no excuse, we have a little provision of superseding law in American known as the Eight Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids "cruel and unusual punishment."
Environmental preservation is important, of course, but there are real criminals committing real crimes in America that have dramatically more far-reaching and harmful effects on society than do individuals releasing balloons as a gesture of romance. Shouldn't we save our harshest punishment for the really serious environmental polluters?