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  • Rolling Back Overcriminalization

    Between 2000 and 2007, the United States Congress created 452 entirely new crimes, a rate of over one new crime every week. By the end of 2007, the U.S. Code included more than 4,450 federal crimes, with an estimated tens of thousands more located in the federal regulatory code. Worse, a joint study released this May by The Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), found that more than half of the bills that would have added or modified non-violent, non-drug criminal offenses in 109th Congress (2005-2006) Congress were not even referred to their respective judiciary

    President Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General Ed Meese writes at NRO about a House rules change that could be a first step toward a solution:

    The incoming House majority has promised to change the way that business is done in Washington — to look out for the average American and for small business. It faces one of its first opportunities to do so this month, when the new members select the proposed rules that will govern the House. If the House wants to show that it is not going to perpetuate business as usual in Washington, a good first step would be to adopt a rule requiring every bill that proposes or modifies a federal crime to be referred to the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the floor. This simple, common-sense change would help to curtail the current crisis in federal criminal law — a crisis resulting from the enactment of hundreds of duplicative and, too often, unconstitutional criminal laws that trap average Americans and hurt small businesses.

    This October, Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Research Fellow Brian Walsh explained, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, why overcriminalization is a threat to the rule of law:

    Placing thousands of vague, overbroad criminal laws in the hands of government officials means that no one is safe from unjust prosecution and punishment. Many of these criminal laws punish conduct that the average person would not guess is prohibited. The body of criminal law thus fails to meet one of the primary requirements of due process: providing individuals with fair notice of what conduct can be punished criminally.

    Since our nation’s founding, a core principle of our system of justice has been that no citizen should be subjected to criminal punishment for conduct that he did not know was illegal or otherwise wrongful. This principle is expressed in the requirement that the government must prove a defendant acted with criminal intent before subjecting him to criminal punishment. Responding to this undermining of our nation’s founding principles and the need for major changes in how the federal government criminalizes behavior, a wide range of conservative, liberal, and independent organizations have joined forces to push back against arbitrary government criminalization, including the American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, The Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

    This rule change is a key first step towards rolling back the overcriminalization of America.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Rolling Back Overcriminalization

    1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Foundry: Conservative Policy News. -- Topsy.com

    2. Robert Ulmer, Kentuc says:

      All conservatives,republicans, and The Tea Party need to support this cause by writing their Congressman at the state and the federal levels about this over-criminalization movement! The government these days seem to pick and chose who they go after anyway! Law has lost its clarity of definition, way to much gray area. Congressmen are not even writing the laws today, which is very alarming to me and should be to all American's! Constitutional Freedom is under attack. Writing law just for the sake of doing it to show your constituents you are doing something is the fruit of a lazy irresponsible legislator.

    3. Dr. Robert G. Perrin says:

      The story could be materially helped by means of a few well-chosen examples of newly criminalized behaviour. Acts that the average person would not suspect as being criminal would be especially good choices. Who edits these stories? Why is it left for the reader to make obvious suggestions for improvement–and after the fact, of course?

    4. Richard, New Orleans says:

      "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt" 'Atlas Shrugged' – Ayn Rand

      Scary how close we are getting to that broken world that Ayn described.

    5. Pingback: Rolling Back Overcriminalization

    6. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      Conn Carroll makes a practical point for New House Republicans, how their own House Rule change putting criminalizing legislation through the Judiciary Committee might stop the Overcriminalization (by redundant layers of Law.) I think False Prosecution has reached epidemic proportions in America. Beyond House Rules I think that the House should use its Oversight to pear down the Unconstitutional Policies of all those Czars and Administrators in the Goverment. Go aggressively to prevent Obama using Unconstitutional Powers given to him by the 111th Congress. Ask Americans to send you, the House, their Complaints about being victimized by Government.

      Conn is right about Criminal Intent (mens rea) has to be found before you criminalize something that should be civil. I say the gigantic unread Bills we saw in the 111th are full of criminal penalties that a Committee of experts should have ruled on before the Bills ever went to the Floor. I would also like to see every Representative sign off on the Constitutionality of each Bill they vote, and say why it is Constitutional. You know the 111th voted that down! Yeah! The Congress refused to vote itself to abide by the Constitution (and you say they have Oaths they take seriously!)

      No kidding! There is so much Thought Crime stuff! Your kid gets hurt and your grief is complicated by a negligence suit out of Family Law. The Policy is "somebody has to go to jail!" But you see, that mandates False Prosecution! They throw multiple charges for one crime, not because they have the Evidence but because they can Plea Bargain you down even if you are innocent!

      I don't blame Dr. Perrin for wanting examples of Unconstitutional things, well gosh! How about the Income Tax! How about the Nanny State! How about Communists in the Administration, they have set up a Dictator in Obama and his Czars. That is Unconstitutional, Dictatorship is illegal and Unconstitutional in America. Read on Dr. Perrin, Heritage has all kinds of Articles as long and as detailed as you like. Conn Carroll is one of our best Contributors, the data was actually better than you could have reasonably expected.

    7. John, Cincinnati says:

      Agree with the post. The more laws we pass, the crooked-er the country get. When everything is illegal, we will have reached a state of perfect corruption.

    8. Pingback: Overcriminalization in the United States | American Justice Center Blog

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