U.S. Code § 1365 - Tampering with Consumer Products
When we buy something at the store, we expect the product to be safe. Government agencies like the USDA and the FDA set standards to ensure consumer products are safe for citizens.
That's why, in many cases, it's a federal crime to tamper with consumer products, especially in a way that could endanger the public or cause harm to the businesses selling the products.
This crime is codified in Title 18 U.S. Code 1365. If you're convicted of tampering with consumer products under federal law, you could face up to 5-20 years in prison—and if someone dies as a result of your efforts, the sentence could even be life imprisonment.
Many measures are in place to safeguard consumer products—for example, sealing bottle caps and plastic bags. Manufacturers and other regulating bodies put these in place to ensure the safety of consumers. The tampering with these products can be a threat to life.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the safety of consumer products such as food, produce, drugs, and cosmetics. They have made a substantial effort to maintain the safety of consumers, such as creating the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
FSMA's primary focus is to ensure food safety from production to consumers. They prevent the occurrence of food crimes and casualties and also regulate consumer food tampering. The related law 21 U.S. Code § 350i is about protection against intentional adulteration.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also protects the public from any risk of using a consumer product. They have strict regulations guiding consumer products. The Consumer Product Safety Act is one of the statutes designed for food protection. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will review this topic in more detail below.
18 U.S.C. § 1365 Explained
18 U.S.C. § 1365 defines consumer product tampering as tampering with the product with "reckless disregard" for the fact that it might cause injury or death or with the intent of causing injury to a business. It is also a federal crime to attempt to tamper with or taint a product, even if you fall in doing so.
While individual states have laws governing product tampering, it becomes a federal crime when the product "affects" interstate or foreign commerce.
Since most consumer products these days are distributed across state lines, most acts of product tampering technically fall under federal jurisdiction. Specifically, consumer product tampering includes all the following types of activities:
- Tampering with (or tainting) the product itself;
- Tampering with a product label;
- Tampering with the product container;
- Willfully claiming falsely that a product has been tainted;
- Threatening to tamper with a product;
- Conspiring with others to tamper with a product;
- Attempting to do any of the above.
It's important to note that 18 U.S.C. 1365 only applies to product tampering at any point along the supply chain (i.e., manufacturing, distribution, and holding for sale). This law does not apply to product tampering once the product has left store shelves, although doing so might violate other state laws.
What Are Some Examples of Consumer Product Tampering?
EXAMPLE 1: Billy works in the manufacturing sector of a pharmaceutical company, bottling and packing over-the-counter drugs for nationwide retail sales. Disgruntled by company policies, Billy taints a batch of painkillers with cow dung before the pills are bottled as an act of revenge.
Billy is guilty of federal consumer product tampering because he tainted the product with no regard for public safety and caused injury to the company.
EXAMPLE 2: In an act of corporate espionage, Janet poses as an employee of a furniture factory while secretly working for a competitor. After hours, Janet sneaks into the warehouses and slaps a fake label on some of the furniture boxes claiming that the products were made with known cancer-causing agents. Janet is guilty of consumer product tampering because she falsely claimed a product was tainted for the purpose of damaging a competitor company.
EXAMPLE 3: Alan buys several bottles of hand lotion from a local drug store for his wife, but before he brings them home, he injects a chemical into them that he knows will cause his wife to have a severe allergic reaction. While he may be guilty of other crimes, Alan cannot be charged under 18 U.S.C. 135 because his actions occurred outside the supply chain and did not affect interstate commerce.
What Are the Penalties for This Federal Offense?
If you're convicted of federal consumer product tampering, you could face harsh penalties that vary according to the type and severity of the offense, along with significant fines. For example:
- If you tamper with a product for the purpose of injuring a business, not with the intent of hurting or killing consumers, you could face up to 3 years in prison.
- If you falsely claim a product was tampered with, or if you threaten to tamper with a product...the maximum penalty is five years in prison.
- For general instances of tampering or attempted tampering where the injury did not occur...the maximum penalty is ten years in prison.
- If the tampering resulted in serious injury to another person...the penalty is up to 20 years in prison.
- If the tampering results in someone's death...the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
Tainting consumer products under this law can result in a maximum of three years in federal prison, while knowingly communicating false information about a consumer product being tainted can result in five years of imprisonment if convicted.
Contact a Federal Crime Defense Professional
Before a conviction for federal food, drugs, and agricultural crimes, the prosecutor must have a valid proof of harm or injury to a victim.
Perhaps there is not sufficient proof to convict you of this crime.
If you are under investigation or already indicted for product tampering, you will need seasoned legal representation to give you the best chance of a favorable outcome.
Depending on the severity of the crime, perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor to get the charges reduced or dismissed. After we re3view all the case details, we can guide you through the legal process in a federal courtroom.
Eisner Gorin LLP has decades of experience defending people accused of federal offenses. Contact us for a case evaluation via phone or fill out the contact form.