Is America Overcriminalized?

Basic tenant of the article is that the proliferation of federal and state criminal laws (via overzealous legislatures developing excessive criminal penalties that don’t necessarily fit the crime) has resulted in the United States becoming overcriminalized. The US only accounts for 5% of the world population but we hold 25% of the world’s prisoners.

The authors (Charles Koch and Mark Holden) propose the following points as reform:

A pretty simple piece with a lot of common sense. Our political culture tends to favor “hard on crime” platforms and agendas. Many people care for their safety and such platforms win support. Follow through by legislatures assessing criminal penalties for similar things that other nations believe are dubious :dubious: show that they have followed through on their agendas and garner re-election votes.

This type of change I expect will be harder to accomplish for the reasons asserted above.

I’m on board with all of these reforms, although #2 is a bit squishy.

#1 is terrible–a license for people to do any amount of harm through wanton carelessness and reckless indifference to the rights and safety of others.

Eh? They’d still be civilly liable. Though I think you misunderstand what the authors are saying.

Yeah, I’m not sure how #1 works out. Most of the anecdotes from RNATB’s post appear ridiculous but how many people are in prisons from those sorts of “crimes”?

I don’t think the focus there is necessarily keeping people out of jail or whatever so much as it is eliminating solutions for problems that don’t exist from the statute books.

Just end the war on drugs. That’s most of the problem.

The classic example of Number 1 is vehicular homicide while driving drunk. Clearly the driver did not intend to kill anyone. But you think it is satisfactory that the only punishment is that the guy’s auto insurance is going to pay for the death–since he will be civilly liable–and maybe his rates will go up?

You seem to misunderstand them too. Driving drunk is a knowing, willful violation of the law itself.

#3 is a big deal. I doubt 1 in 10 people know that there is no (federal) constitutional guarantee of the right to counsel in state misdemeanor prosecutions.

America imprisons more people, per capita, than Cuba (they’re second in the world, with Russia and Rwanda coming a bit behind). Given that Cuban law allows you to be imprisoned for up to four years without having committed any crime at all, that’s really pretty impressive, and not in a good way.

  1. To be prosecutable in the criminal courts, an action must have violated the peace, safety, or property of another individual. No victim, no prosecution.

So stealing government property is okay? :wink:

Why would it be? Stealing from the government is the same as stealing from every person who pays taxes.

Charles Koch, THE Charles Koch proposed this? I’d have to question his underlying motive then, he’s probably trying to get away with something.

In the interest of mutual aid, I have to point out that the word is “tenet.” Tenants live in buildings, and are expected to obey the tenets of their leases.

Whoah. It really is that Charles Koch. I assumed it was some researcher or law professor.

Considering he’s aligned with the ACLU and George Soros on this issue, hell might be freezing over for some.

Holden was quoted in a NYT article back in November:

Prove it was willful. That’s what any good defense attorney is going to say, and with good reason- plenty of people may underestimate the amount of alcohol they’ve had, either through inattention, inaccurate drink-making, or something else, as well as underestimating its effects- due to food, medications, etc…

TL;DR- someone could easily legally drive drunk with no intention to break the law.


As others have noted, I have questions about the knowing and willful intent issue. It seems like a huge gray area that could go anywhere from eliminating a few meaningless misdemeanors to opening a loophole that would make it virtually impossible to convict anyone of any crime.