There are an estimated 4,500 federal criminal statutes — and innumerable regulations backed by criminal penalties that include incarceration. Even if none of these were arcane, which many are, their sheer number would mean that Americans would not have clear notice of what behavior is proscribed or prescribed. The presumption of knowledge of the law is refuted by the mere fact that estimates of the number of federal statutes vary by hundreds. If you are sent to prison for excavating arrowheads on federal land without a permit, your cellmate might have accidentally driven his snowmobile onto land protected by the Wilderness Act….
…[Glenn Harlan Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor and creator of Instapundit, says Overcriminalization] deepens the dangers of “a dynamic in which those charged with crimes have a lot at risk, while those doing the charging have very little ‘skin in the game.’ ” With a vast menu of crimes from which to choose, prosecutors can “overcharge” a target, presenting him or her with the choice between capitulation-through-plea-bargain or a trial with a potentially severe sentence.
Given the principle — which itself should be reconsidered — of prosecutorial immunity, we have a criminal justice system with too many opportunities for generating defendants, too few inhibitions on prosecutors and ongoing corrosion of the rule and morality of law. Congress, the ultimate cause of all this, has work to undo.
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