Overcriminalization: Big Government & Criminal Justice

Excessive, confusing statutes cost money, wreck the lives of upstanding citizens, and discourage economic growth. 


Which of the following behaviors do you believe should result in federal criminal charges?

1. Diverting a backed-up sewage system
2. Abandoning a snowmobile in a life-threatening blizzard
3. Digging up arrowheads
4. Violating another country’s law by shipping lobsters in plastic instead of paper bags 

If you answered none of the above, you have better sense than Congress.  


The United States is drifting further and further away from the basic constitutional and legal principles of our criminal justice system. For much of our history, the duties associated with “crime-fighting” were clearly understood to be a responsibility of state and local governments.

Over the years, however, Congress has continued to encroach on state police powers by passing more and more federal criminal laws and regulations. In addition to the near 4,500 statutory federal crimes, there are estimated to be between 100,000–300,000 federal regulations that may carry criminal penalties. Many of these laws make every day innocent actions subject to criminal prosecution. This derails a fundamental principle in criminal law: actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea—the act itself does not make one a criminal unless done with criminal intent.

This practice, called “overcriminalization,” is an attack on the foundational principles of justice and contrary to the fundamental principles of fairness.  If you’re outraged by this federal government overreach,
write your Congressmen and ask them what they are doing to prevent overcriminalization.


NEWS UPDATE - May 8, 2013

After years of blowing the whistle on overcriminalization, Justice Fellowship is pleased to report a great step forward from Washington!  Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved the creation of a task force on overcriminalization. The House Judiciary Committee recognizes that it’s time to repair the decades of damage resulting from hastily creating new crimes.

The 10-member task force will be led by Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Va.).  Justice Fellowship is looking forward to serving the task force as it tackles overcriminalization and proposes solutions in the coming months.  Stay tuned! 




The Heritage Foundation Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
The Heritage Foundation

Legislative Materials

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