Skip to comments.Overcriminalized America. Too many people are being prosecuted for what should not even be crimes.
Posted on 05/02/2011 7:02:13 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Well, our bold and spunky congressional pals finally crossed the line. They spent our tax dollars so carelessly, and at such an alarming rate, that we were forced to stage what amounted to a national public fiscal intervention. Suddenly, the boring federal budget became big news, as Americans demanded that Washington restore our nations economic health and cut all wasteful and inappropriate spending, including the government funding of NPR and Planned Parenthood. This signal from the citizens was valuable despite an eventual Republican surrender in the most recent budget battle. And while Im pleased that the overspending was exposed, I wonder when the mainstream media will uncover the government money pit of overcriminalization.
Overcriminalization refers to the recent trend in Congress to use the criminal law to fix every publicized issue a horrendous waste of government spending. Essentially, our representatives are criminalizing conduct that should be regulated by civil or administrative means. Overcriminalization has left U.S. Attorneys with a wide selection of crimes with which to charge people: There are over 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 regulations with criminal penalties. Not surprisingly, many of these obscure laws have led to unreasonable arrests and unjust prosecutions. These costly overcriminalization policies amount to both federal waste and government overreach.
Any one of us can be targeted and imprisoned. A homeowner can be arrested for failure to prune her shrubs, in violation of the citys municipal code. A small-business owner can do time for lack of proper paperwork when importing orchids. Dont own a business or a garden? You are still not safe. When the new health-care law goes into effect, everyone, with the exception of unions and other exempt parties, will face severe penalties for failure to purchase government-approved insurance. In fact, refusal to comply with the new health-care regulations is a federal violation punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. The grander issue of wasteful government spending is still salient, but overcriminalization, while a part of that issue, also has large negative implications for the immediate livelihood of the American people.
While it is difficult to know exactly how much money the government spends to prosecute a single case, its instructive to look at a recent example: the infamous Barry Bonds trial. San Francisco U.S. Attorneys spent eight years and countless tax dollars investigating and prosecuting Bonds for allegedly lying under oath regarding his steroid usage. After they had dedicated so many hours and so much of the criminal-justice systems limited resources, the jury refused to convict Bonds on any of the serious charges, finding him guilty of one charge of obstruction of justice. We need to be selective about the cases that rise to the federal criminal level, because spending our tax dollars on cases that drag on too long means that our money is being wasted.
Let me be clear: We should be tough on actual criminal acts. Let the punishment fit the crime. However, when prosecutors pursue frivolous cases that disrupt our quality of life, its not just that the government is wasting our tax dollars and is threatening our liberty, but it is spending less time going after real criminals: the arsonists, the murderers, and the sexual and financial predators. In actuality, our government is passing policies that are weakening our criminal-justice system and decreasing our safety.
In another example, highlighted by the Heritage Foundation, auto-racing legend Bobby Unser got lost in a blizzard, almost died, and was later convicted for operating a snow mobile in the natural wilderness. The conviction itself is quite unbelievable. If Mr. Unser did enter the wilderness, and there is no such proof, it was only due to the fact that he was disoriented in the blizzard. Nevertheless, he faced a $5,000 fine and a six-month prison sentence. It is estimated that the federal government spent approximately one million dollars to prosecute Mr. Unser.
In addition to the cost of prosecution, there are also costs associated with imprisonment. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal inmate population was 211,176 as of March. The average cost of incarceration for one federal inmate in fiscal year 2009 was $25,251. So putting justice, liberty, and the wishes of the founding fathers aside, its not exactly cheap to lock up people either. We should ensure that only real criminals are behind bars. Instead of locking up gardeners for violating regulations, we should fine them and generate income.
The secondary hidden cost of overcriminalization is more difficult to quantify, but is still a drain on our economy. Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, in an essay for the Heritage Foundation, argues that criminal penalties have caused paranoia among all members of the business community. Businessmen are not innovating for fear of getting prosecuted, and as a result they are unable to compete in the global market. This is especially detrimental to the recovery of our ailing economy.
Because the cost of federal prosecution and imprisonment is so high, we need to ensure that this severe sanction is reserved only for actual criminals. We need to bring overcriminalization to the forefront of the American media and political table. Overcriminalization affects our daily lives and hurts all Americans. The stifling effect of criminalizing acts that should be of a regulatory nature is having a suffocating effect on American business and entrepreneurship.
A government capable of making seemingly innocuous conduct criminal is one that should be feared. The unlucky victims of the feds would certainly agree with me.
Mahsa Saeidi-Azcué is a television personality and a former assistant district attorney from Brooklyn, New York.
-- Dr. Floyd Ferris "Atlas Shrugged"
Not just at the federal level, but also at with states.
In a neighbor state, if two pot heads are sitting on a porch passing the last bit of a joint back and forth between them, they can be tried and convicted for “distribution of a controlled dangerous substance”, because it passed from one to the other. Simple possession of a small amount is a misdemeanor, but distribution is a felony.
In the same state, if you bounce a check and do not make good on it in some period of time (I have forgotten what it is - 30 or 90 days or somesuch) the state will assume intent to defraud, and a felony conviction will follow. The amount is irrelevant. Consequently, imbeciles who bounced their cable TV payments are routinely convicted as felons.
Substance abuse and nonpayment of obligations are both bad things, but please!
Even worse, I remember a case a while back where conflicting laws over this meant that you were in violation of the law no matter what you did. Comply with one, violate the other.
That is exactly how one identifies a tyranny.
The entire ‘adversarial’ system of justice needs to be tossed in favor of something more like the French ‘inquisitorial’ system in which the common incentive of all parties involved is a determination of facts. NOBODY should ever have any sort of a money or career incentive to put people in prison. The job of DA should not exist.
Osama’s dead!!! What a buzz-kill to post things to remind us that NOTHING’s CHANGED!!!!!!
I always hated people who, back in simpler times, poked fun of constitutional minded types with lines like ‘well I have nothing to hide.’
My response always was that the govt will keep passing laws till you do have something to hide.
And today, here we are.
Example: a good percentage of the US Congress, past and present. Consider the charges leveled against Bernie Madoff and compare them to what our elected officials do day in and day out with their tax generated Ponzi schemes and the bribery, extortion, embezzlement and larceny that accompany the distribution of funds confiscated from productive Americans under false pretenses.
But government needs those kinds people walking around free...otherwise, the public will stop demanding new laws!
Don't expect any of these laws to be rolled back voluntarily, since they were implemented by design. The System is working exactly the way all self-perpetuating systems work - it must continue to grow or it dies.
Beat me to it!
I totally agree. We should not be jailing people for misdemeanors.
When we do jail people for minor crimes, we shouldn’t be mixing them with violent or predatory inmates, because we just end up with more violent and predatory inmates as a result.
The law enforcement economy is a large and important part of the US economy, doesn’t the author realize that? It is the one economy that can be promoted as protecting citizens. The one economy that is protecting the weak and downtrodden. Give thanks that we have elected officials who see the need to protect us from ourselves.
Where else are they going to be trained? Hollywood can only do so much and there’s nothing quite like talking to an actual rapist / murderer / violent robber / kidnapper / you fill in the rest.
Pay to build the jail and it is a waste not to fill them. /s
You know you're slow when...
We need to relax some laws — a friend got arrested for have a pic of his son on a bear skin rug. (The worker at the photo lab at Walgreens thought in was child porn.)
Same minds created the problem ...aren’t capable of the solution...
Everything else is part of the malaise that is killing our Country and stifling our prosperity.
Most guys, when they go to jail for minor crimes, just want to serve their time and get out. They are minimal risk inmates.
However, the way the US prison system is set up, those who are relatively peaceful are forced to become violent or predatory just to survive and that is unacceptable.
The author’s argument leans heavily on anecdotal argument. What is needed is a list of the offenses that the author believes should not draw jail time and the number of people who are incarcerated for those offenses. Some of us might disagree with some of the offenses on the list.
Cost isn’t the only consideration, but those who complain about the cost of incarceration tend to ignore the costs that the public would incur if the perps were free — things like the cost of maintaining them when they cannot get jobs, the costs attributable to the illegitimate or criminally-prone kids they would father, and the cost of dealing with the crimes that some of them will inevitably commit because they are not in jail.
“Thank God we got penitentiaries.” - Richard Pryor
Cost isnt the only consideration, but those who complain about the cost of incarceration tend to ignore the costs that the public would incur if the perps were free things like the cost of maintaining them when they cannot get jobs, the costs attributable to the illegitimate or criminally-prone kids they would father, and the cost of dealing with the crimes that some of them will inevitably commit because they are not in jail.
You're forgetting the title:
"Overcriminalized America. Too many people are being prosecuted for what should not even be crimes."
The author linked the following article, "Overcriminalization: Sacrificing the Rule of Law in Pursuit of 'Justice'."
Former Attorney General Thornburgh wants a complete revamping and consolidation of the federal criminal code. It sounds like a good idea to get some reigns on Leviathan. It might be the only productive idea for a split Congress.
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