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A Volkswagen Golf with two people inside stopped on the side of the road. This portion of the highway has surveillance cameras to record traffic and other crimes. Like littering. The people performed some kind of cleanup inside, then left their trash in the grass and took off. But right as they were depositing the trash, a police car spotted their transgression. What evolved is the confiscation of the Golf over the littering violation. 

Does the crime of littering justify the means?

Highway littering
Highway littering sign in Nevada | Getty

The surveillance footage shows a woman depositing trash in a plastic bag, then tossing it onto the ground. Then the driver discarded more trash because, why not? But the police saw this as they happened to be passing, and pulled over to look into what was going on. This is an area where violators face the full extent of the law, which makes it mandatory to confiscate the offender’s car.

Because this happened in Europe, there are certain laws that apply when willful littering at the edge of a forest is determined. The laws took a decidedly harsher direction after being approved by the European Union in 2020. Those rules make it very apparent that the EU considers littering a serious crime. Who does? According to a press release, this is only the fourth time that a car has been confiscated since the new rules were enacted. 

Can he get his Golf back?

Highway littering
Highway littering warning | Getty

The driver can get his car back. First, he has to pay the fine, which is $1,300 per person. He also must pay a separate $1,200 fine invoked by the local environmental agency. Once that is done, he can sue to get his Golf. But, he must prove he didn’t break the law. 

With the camera footage and two police officers having seen the littering taking place, that seems like a tough thing to prove. The good news for both of them is they don’t have to appear before a judge. And, there is no jail time attached to the violation. 

Does littering constitute a crime in the U.S.?

highway littering
Highway littering at underpass | Getty

In reality, the U.S. has a similar fine. It won’t confiscate your car, but you can pay up to $30,000 for littering in Maryland. A prison term can even be applied for more egregious litter violations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But these high judgments are usually reserved for repeat offenders, and it is on a sliding scale. In Michigan, imprisonment can be levied for up to five years for repeat offenders. 

And virtually every state also requires an amount of time for either cleaning up trash along roadways or doing other community service work. Some states require the offender’s name to be published, sort of a public shaming thing. But you won’t have to worry about fines or imprisonment because you’re not going to litter.


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