I am a multiple felon: the overcriminalization of America

Loosely inspired by this thread, and by an incident in my office over the weekend.

We are painting the office, and so we have a crew in working on the place. Being a law office, one of the painters couldn’t resist trying to get some free legal advice. He told me that he was up on charges for assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon, and asked about some aspect of the case (I told him to talk to his criminal defense lawyer).

When I got home, I jokingly ranted about this, saying that perhaps it wasn’t the best exercise of etiquette to inform a complete stranger that you are (allegedly) a felon. My wife asked me, “well, since were in private, are you a felon?”

This got me thinking, and the answer is “probably yes.” I’ve probably committed a few felonies, a mess of misdemeanors, and scads of traffic violations.
The thing is, I’m a relatively average guy. I’m a professional, (at least moderately) respected in my community, with no wild or violent streak, and (ironically) I’ve never been in trouble with the law.
Nor, I think, am I alone. Either in conversation with casual acquaintances, or from my knowledge of friends and relatives, most everyone I know - at least of my generation - have done things that are illegal, be it drinking underage, drugs, premarital sex in Virginia, etc. Given my background, this group largely consists of professionals, military officers, etc.

So, assuming we had much more efficient policing in this country, I and most of the people I know would be in jail, or at least be ex-cons.

I believe that this demonstrates that our society has overcriminalized behavior to a great extent. Further, this is harmful, and not only to those unlucky enough to get caught. It leads to selective enforcement and prosecutiona, as well as a general disrespect for the law.

So, are a felon? Should you be?


You think I’m goin’ to tell?

Note I didn’t identify the possible felonies I have committed. :wink:

Nope. I have never committed a felonious act, or an act as a juvenile that would have been a felony if committed by an adult.

Traffic infractions? Sure, plenty of times. But those are not criminal in nature.

Every semester, Hubby gives the students an anonymous survey about criminal behavior. (He teaches Sociology at our branch campus). It covers nearly everything, from petty theft to rape and murder. It’s surprising just how criminal we are. While there have only been a few people who’ve admitted to rape (and only one who said they had murdered someone), nearly every class has at least a dozen felons.

Never driven across state lines with booze, and fail to pay sales tax on said booze? For that matter, ever buy anything in a state with no/lower sales tax, and fail to report the purchase?


Spoken like someone who’s never had a sex life in North Carolina :). As I understand it, that recent Supreme Court decision overturned a lot of blue laws; but before that decision, virtually all non-virgin Tarheels were felons.


In re-reading my OP, it’s a little more MPSIMSy than I wanted it to be. While I am interested in the “criminality” of Dopers, I’m more interested in a general debate over whether the almost default position of the US to resort to criminalization of any behavior it has problems with is (a) an accurate statement, and (b) good policy.


I always thought it was amazing that GWB didn’t have more compassion for felons. From what we know of his past he commited quite a few of them. Imagine how different his life (and ours) would have been if he were a convicred felon and not able to run for office.

I agree with the OP. I have done a bunch of things (mostly in the past) that are felonies, though all of them were “victimless” to one degree or another.

Not a felon, but should be. The whole pot thing puts most of us in that bag.

I’ve driven from DC into Virginia with booze, sure. But such practice was legal in accordance with Virginia Code § 4.1-310(E). Any purchases I might make in other states are handled in accord with Virginia Code § 58.1-611, as applicable, relating to credit for taxes paid in other states. As a gambler, I keep careful records anyway; adding this requirement to that wasn’t ever a big deal.

Yes, I’m anal-retentive about it. But I figure no one ever got in trouble for being too scrupulous.

That’s because he doesn’t identify with otehr felons. He identified as a member of America’s elite. One set of rules for them, another set for the rest of us.

I’ve had sex in North Carolina - Fayetteville, to be exact - but I am fairly certain it was entirely legal.

What specific felonies do we “know” of his past?

I once got thrown in the can for peeing in public (drunkenly, I’ll admit). I was charged with something akin to “polluting a public place,” charged $700, and tossed in the drunk tank.

Ok, so was this good policy? Well, besides the fact there were no public bathrooms within a mile and it was either that or piss myself, I carry around a rather sizeable chip on my shoulder. Of course, we don’t want stupid drunken college kids pissing on everyone’s lawn either. I’d say the fine was certainly a little usurious, and the county has recently ennacted a fine actually tied to urinating in public, more to the tune of $200. Of course, now, in the same county, they screw poor 21 year olds with a 20 year old drinking at their party with a “distribution to minors” charge, which is largely reserved for bars & taverns, and costs upwards of $3000.

The moral? I’d say yes, the US is over-criminalized. We’re talking a college campus here and you’ve got to assume people are getting drunk & urinating in unsavory locales. What upsets me about the over-criminalization is that the targets are often not that big of a problem. I’m pretty sure a DUI is a smaller fine than the distribution to minors ticket I noted above but a far worse act in the real world.

And yeah, we’re probably all criminals if we’re sticking to a US definition. Thrown trash out your window? Play the NCAA March Madness pool at the office? Et cetera, etc.

Not in San Francisco & Oakland. But if you smoke a cigarette in a public park, well then mister…

There is in my opinion a legitimate position which doesn’t really view a lot of old, still-on-the-books yet unenforced laws as being meaningfully significant.

The OP says that if we had more efficient policing many of us would have arrest records, I don’t believe this is the case. I don’t believe that most police departments, most DA’s offices, municipal/county/state governments really have an interest or a true desire to enforce some of the more arcane laws. Especially since most of these authorities are pretty much understanding of the fact that these laws are basically deadwood, if ever seriously challenged constitutionally they wouldn’t be laws anymore.

If we knew the specifics he would have been arested. He has acknowledged a wild past and refuses to answer questions on specific drug use. Kitty Kelly’s book accuses him of cocaine use, including at the White House.

Bush does say on tape: “I wouldn’t answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried”

Was the person you had sex with your spouse?

If not then you’re guilty of a Class 2 Misdemeanor (so the OP is wrong on the matter of being felons) as you’d be in violation of § 14-184 of the North Carolina General Statutes.


And thanks to the checks and balances that even out the scale in this country–in my case, the protection against double jeopardy–I can tell you that I was guilty as the stinkin’ day is long.*

And if I’da been caught doing all the other stuff I done did, I’d probably rot a long while in jail–but I, like you, am not a degenerate and have never hurt anyone. So you’re right, but I also think TPTB are aware of your concerns (well, not yours specifically) and for that reason checks and balances are in place that do even out the scale. I mean, you aren’t rotting in jail. I don’t think you can stack that up to unintentionally inefficient policework alone.

*Actually, I’m telling you that less because of perceived protection and more because it’s much too small a matter for The Man to even care if they found me posting about it here. But that’s beside the point.