Monday, July 26, 2010

Exposing the Dangers of Overcriminalization

America is in the throes of overcriminalization.  As former AG and Heritage Foundation Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Ed Meese noted in a recent documentary on the topic, "We are making and enforcing far too many criminal laws that create traps for the innocent but unwary -- and threaten to turn otherwise respectable, law-abiding citizens into criminals."  There are now more than 4,000 federal criminal offenses scattered throughout the 50 titles of the U.S. Code, and it's estimated that federal prosecutors could use the criminal process to enforce as many as 300,000 federal regulations.

Thousands of these laws criminalize socially and economically beneficial activities that few of us would imagine are illegal.  Worse, many offenses lack the criminal intent requirement that protects innocent Americans from prosecution and punishment.

The Heritage Foundation is tacking this legal issue head-on with its new book -- One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty.  The book exposes this growing threat to freedom and makes the case for returning U.S. criminal law to its proper role in society: to ensure the public's safety from truly wrongful conduct and protect the innocent.

One Nation Under Arrest brings this problem to life through riveting first-hand accounts of actual victims of overcriminalization -- citizens whose lives were upended because they were charged as criminals for honest mistakes.  Examples include an inventor who spent two years in federal prison after the FBI arrested him for failing to put the proper sticker on his otherwise lawful UPS package and a cancer-ridden grandmother arrested and criminally charged for allowing her hedges to grow too tall.

The book also details specific laws inspired by politics rather than justice or safety, as well as judicial activists who use the federal code as an ideological weapon.  Thankfully, the Heritage Foundation is following this issue closely and will continue to expose the dangers of overcriminalization.  "Taking the steps necessary to ensure that American criminal law once again routinely exemplifies the right principles and purposes will require much work," Meese points out, "but the alternative is to distort the American criminal justice system and jeopardize the American people."

For more information, visit overcriminalized.com to learn more, watch interviews with victims, and to sign up to receive updates on legislation and case studies that show the growing abuse of our criminal justice system.

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