Too Many Laws, Too Many “Criminals”…And Too Many Politicians Looking To Appear Tough On Crime
A recent CMG blog addressed the growing issue of the “overcriminalization of America” – and how a recent surge in new laws has branded numerous typical, law-abiding citizens as “criminals.” We highlighted a few examples of new, often ridiculous, laws that have been enacted in recent years that have made headlines … and, unfortunately, there are countless other examples of unnecessary or duplicative laws that have led to unnecessary convictions – and unnecessary prisoners filling up our already-overcrowded prisons.
As we look at some of the new laws that have been put into effect which have turned unsuspecting grandparents, french-fry eating children on subways, and science whiz kids into “criminals” — not to mention the thousands of people currently serving time in jail for crimes that probably shouldn’t be crimes at all — the question remains. What’s behind the recent upswing in new laws being created – and passed? Or, more to the point, who is behind the passage of so many new laws that are turning innocents into criminals?
The surge in so many new and often unnecessary laws, many believe, stems from the work of overzealous politicians. In today’s often heated political arena, legislators are consistently looking for ways to “show their worth” to their constituents. Legislators are, after all, “law-makers.” For a legislator, sponsoring a bill is an active step that shows people you’re working, and sponsoring more bills than your political rivals is a way of showing you’re busy working harder than they are. Sometimes these bills are merely hastily-conceived responses to publicized tragedies – a child dies, and a bill is drafted in their memory … even if existing laws sufficiently address the issue. While purportedly intended to call public attention to the issue (a good thing, in some cases), it is debatable as to whether the primary objective is sometimes instead to call public attention to the politician.
Sponsoring bills that are seen as “fighting crime” are especially popular. In fact, it is precisely this desire of politicians to appear tough on crime that has help drive overcriminalization, according to Brian Walsh, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. According to Walsh, people need to understand that they could end up sharing fates similar to the many well-meaning individuals who have been convicted of “crimes” and whose stories have made news. What is needed, notes Walsh and many other legal experts, is a shift in public opinion – allowing the political dynamic to change so that “politicians will stand up to the ever-increasing scope of criminal law.” Not every tragedy needs a law in its memory; often, existing laws are more than sufficient upon which to base appropriate action
With political races continuing to heat up across the country – and politicians nationwide seeking to prove both their value and their “tough stance on crime” to the public, it’s likely that there will be even more new laws added to the current overload of existing laws. Chances are, though, with no politician wanting to appear soft on crime, the issue of “too many laws” and the overcriminalization of America won’t be a campaign platform anytime soon … and, unfortunately, won’t be a topic of discussion in mainstream press – until the next case of a ridiculous law and unsuspecting “criminal” makes national news.
However, as more and more typical law-abiding citizens find themselves accused of crimes, and paying the price, for acts that really shouldn’t be crimes, perhaps our country as a whole will start paying closer attention to the growing problem of the overcriminalization of America. In doing so, let’s start by paying closer attention to the “laws” that some of today’s politicians are trying to move through the system … and consider not only the source of these new laws and why they are really being introduced by some politicians … but the impact that unjust laws can have on our society for years to come.
At Collins, McDonald & Gann, we are concerned about the overcriminalization of America – continuing to closely follow this issue and working to help change public opinion when it comes to the creation, and passage, of these unjust laws. If you or someone you know has been charged with any type of crime, call us at any time to discuss how we can help protect your rights.
For more on this issue, and to view a Fact Sheet from the Heritage Foundation on the topic of overcriminalization, visit: www.heritage.org/research/factsheets/2011/04/overcriminalization-an-explosion-of-federal-criminal-law