With state legislatures and the federal government passing new laws almost every day, are we starting to over-criminalize America?

Correspondents were given the following link for this opinion article: Manhattan Institute: Overcriminalization

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-I have long believed American society has become far too burdened with laws. If one operates on the premise that for every law there is at least one corresponding lawbreaker, then each law passed gives us at least one if not hundreds or thousands of potential criminals. The vast majority of citizens become, unwittingly and/or inadvertently, guilty of committing a crime. At that point, we can fairly be described as a society of criminals.

Of course, the vast majority of those laws have little practical impact on the average citizen, but think what might happen if somehow all levels of law enforcement obtained the manpower and financing to enforce every single law on the books.

Theoretically, the result would be a national disaster. Imagine 50% of the populations spending all their time monitoring, arresting, and prosecuting the other 50%. Commerce would come to a screeching halt. Citizens would stay in their homes for fear of getting caught doing something that might be against some unknown law. Many individuals might decide the best way to avoid prosecution is to become police informants against their neighbors before their neighbors could inform on them.

My solution is to put an immediate moratorium on passing any new laws at the Federal level, then work down to the state and local levels. After a moratorium is in place on new laws, a study should be done of every law on every governing body’s books to determine if the law is still relevant and designed to protect the general welfare and public safety rather than oppress a certain minority group or provide some unfair advantage to another group. Once those laws are either repealed or corrected, a rider should be attached to every law giving it a sunset provision, meaning that unless the government acts to reaffirm a particular law, it drops off the books after a stated period, say 5 or 10 years. Most laws would die a natural death, and the ones that remain will be only those with true value in maintaining the general welfare.

Only after all current laws have been dealt with should new laws be considered. However, an amendment to all constitutional documents or charters should be enacted that states that no law shall be passed without having a sunset provision attached. This will avoid future problems of too many laws weighing down society for the wrong reasons.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Too many laws! Do you share those sentiments? Many people residing in the United States do. This is a consequence of over 300,000 laws and regulations enacted and counting. In fact, laws are being passed on a daily basis, even affecting activities we perform that are not criminal in nature. What does this mean? Even the most well-meaning citizen can be found guilty under such laws, without even being aware.

Regardless of the now long listings of laws and regulations available, governing our every move, federal and state lawmakers continue to wield their judicial prowess. This makes citizens susceptible to the judicial system for harmless and inoffensive conduct. When will they stop over-criminalizing America? That question has been up for discussion but know that the Manhattan Institute has been studying the issue of over-criminalization and are identifying areas in which a reformation could be proposed.

Citizens should not be held accountable for laws they aren’t aware of, let alone appear before the judicial system for a simple act such as walking their dog on a leash beyond 6 feet on federal land. That law is preposterous! If a person’s conduct is not criminal in nature, the judiciary system should not get involved. Stop over-criminalizing America and allow people to walk their dogs in peace.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-With the bombardment of legislation that both state legislatures and the federal government have passed on a regular basis, there is strong evidence that we are starting to over-criminalize America. The numbers of federal laws that already exist continue to increase by at least 50 more every year. Many new federal laws have already been addressed at the state level making for legal problems due to the federal government’s overreach concerning crime laws.

The overlapping with federal and state laws is creating complications within the criminal law system. As reported by the House Judiciary Committee’s Over-Criminalization Task Force in 2014, congressional members were chiefly concerned about the phenomenal growth rate of the federal criminal code. According to a study conducted by Louisiana State University law professor John Baker, over 4,500 crimes exist in federal statues, and another law professor from Temple University, James Strazzella, testified before the Task Force and explained about the continuing crisis in the overlap of federal and state law, particularly in areas previously covered only by state law. He went on to report that with the increase in federal law encompassing areas of state crime, there are more and more duplications of crimes and laws covering them.

State’s rights and their sovereignty are being compromised by the federal government, and in the area of criminal laws, the government has certainly overstepped its bounds. Laws from the past and present are coming out of the woodwork so quickly that individual citizens can’t keep up with them and have little to no knowledge of them in the first place. Americans are being prosecuted for crimes that they were unaware existed. Many examples exist of citizens being prosecuted for both state and federal laws. For example, in Michigan, criminal laws there have made citizens liable for the most innocent of actions such as a woman helping a neighbor child get on a bus for school or a man trying to leave old tires at deposit station not knowing there was proper permitting.

As far as what can be done to ease the overreach with state and federal criminal law legislation, policy makers must consider establishing bipartisan administrative committees to look at current criminal laws and revise or eliminate those that conflict with already existing federal laws. Petty, ridiculously complicated, unnecessary, and repetitive laws should be repealed. In addition, legislators must give citizens specific outlines as to what justifies creating new crime laws along with thorough explanation of already existing criminal laws, so people are able to understand what the laws say and mean. States must also create commissions that review criminal laws and further combine, explain, and improve criminal statutes. State legislature members must also enact provisions that ensure that criminal conviction concerning a crime has to show intent on the part of the suspected perpetrator before passing judgment.

With states having a super abundance of criminal laws at varying levels and remaining in synch with similar federal crime laws, there have to be changes made concerning overlapping legislation. States should be able to retain their own criminal laws but should not be allowed to over legislate and over criminalize petty, trumped up kinds of offenses. Over criminalization of anything and everything is going to put citizens in harm’s way and the legal implications are only going to get worse if crime laws are not reviewed, revamped, and changed to reflect what constitutes real crime and resulting proper punishments. More serious crime issues will be neglected while time is wasted on the over involvement with unimportant issues, and those kinds of thoughts and resulting legislation have to be curbed at the state level. Stopping the federal government with such legislation is a whole other matter that remains to be tackled.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-The “Nanny State” is a recurring theme in the literature of those seen to be on the fringe by the mainstream media and other boring types. However, these days, more and more “average Joe” types are jumping on the bandwagon to complain that we’re all over-regulated and over-criminalized. It seems that we can’t throw a sack of trash in the dumpster or try to start a business without running afoul of some obscure ordinance that’s going to cost us a hefty fine or, worse, land us in the hoosegow.

We all know that murder, rape, robbery and other violent crimes are serious offenses that will result in jail time, but failing to clean up after your dog? Yes, that’s a disgusting habit and offenders should be whacked with a pooper scooper, but I’m not sure the offense rises to the level of imprisonment.

A large part of the current problem is misguided attempts to legislate morality. If passing laws to enforce moral codes worked, there’d be no more arrests for prostitution, as we would have all learned our lessons and the “oldest profession” would have closed up shop. Instead, thanks to the Internet, the brothels are bigger than ever and the skin trade’s even harder to track…and now has become a refuge for human traffickers and other scum who truly deserve the jail cells their often-unwilling “workers” occupy.

Yet another segment of the current useless ordinances is filled by laws designed to prevent anyone’s feelings from getting hurt. The Confederate flag debate is a brilliant example. I come from a long line of Yankees, and the one ancestor I have who did live in the South at the time of secession was an abolitionist who fled to Texas and hid out in the Piney Woods. However, when Johnny Redneck drives by with his Confederate flag flapping from the bed of his truck, the only emotion that strikes me is amusement. Those things make a godawful racket in the truck cab.

Legislating morality and passing laws to avoid hurting people’s feelings is ridiculous. We need to trim down the penal code and focus on the offenses that are truly endangering our society.

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