A North Carolina man has received five months in jail for possessing an illegal plant. No, he was not convicted on charges of marijuana possession; in fact, the man was facing federal crimes for poaching ginseng out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 46-year-old man was accused of possessing more than 80 roots of American ginseng that he had dug out of the national park. The federal charges stem from the fact that the crimes occurred on federal land.
Authorities say that the defendant pleaded guilty to poaching. This was his fourth conviction. News reports show that the man received a 75-day jail sentence in 2011 for a poaching conviction after he was found with more than 500 ginseng roots. Later that year, he was found with nearly 200 roots, for which he received a 120-day sentence.
The American ginseng roots are apparently highly prized in international markets, as they are used to make a health-related tonic. Park officials say that the plant is increasingly endangered by poachers in the Smoky Mountain range, and the species may actually become extinct if it continues to be illegally harvested. Ginseng can fetch about $200 per pound on the open market. Park employees say they have recovered many of the viable roots, but they estimate that only about half of them will survive when transplanted back into the wild.
This case demonstrates the serious nature of crimes that are committed on federal lands. The defendant in this case pleaded guilty to the charges, so he will spend just five months in custody — but his criminal history definitely influenced the sentence. Criminal defendants accused of federal crimes may be subject to harsher penalties for their alleged violations, depending on the nature of their criminal record.
Source: Citizen-Times, “Ginseng poacher sentenced to five-plus months in jail” Romando Dixson, Aug. 28, 2014