Do we need to streamline the criminal code?

posted at 1:21 pm on April 20, 2015 by Jazz Shaw

Are we just putting too many people in jail? Or, at a minimum, locking up some of them for far longer than seems reasonable given the relative scale of their crimes? These are some of the questions which Van Jones and Mark Holden are asking in an op-ed for USA Today, and these are debates which aren’t just taking place on one side of the political divide. The sheer volume of people that we currently keep behind bars in the United States, the length of time that many of them are spending there and the cost we are bearing for maintaining them have raised concerns among conservatives and liberals alike.

For a significant number of criminals it seems that there is little or nothing to be done. Those who are violent and those who are so lacking in basic humanity that they will damage or destroy the lives of their fellow citizens with apparent abandon can’t just be allowed to run loose to solve a logistical problem for us. The very worst of the worst will have to be removed from the playing field entirely, either by killing them or tossing them in a dark hole and throwing away the key. But crime, like anything else, comes in shades of gray. At the lower end of the scale we may have muddied the waters and opened up the door to what the authors refer to as “overcriminalization.” This paragraph lists a few of the more notable stories (some of which we’ve covered here) where people wind up on the extreme wrong side of the law when a lesser charge might have served.

Overcriminalization is rampant in America’s legal system. A Florida fisherman disposed of undersized fish yet was convicted of violating a law passed to prevent destruction of business records. An Arkansas company ran children’s clothing consignment sales staffed by parents and volunteers and was charged with violating federal employment policies. A jilted wife in Pennsylvania doused over-the-counter chemicals on the doorknobs of her husband’s lover’s house and was prosecuted for violating an international treaty meant to prevent chemical warfare. The list goes on.

We can keep an eye out for individual cases where the laws may be misapplied, but the real question here is whether or not the legal code is simply too sprawling, complicated and geared toward stiff penalties. Some of the numbers which the authors point out might make us pause for thought.

These and countless other examples are the result of America’s unwieldy and unjust criminal code. Today, there are estimated to be about 4,500 federal crimes scattered throughout the U.S. Code’s 54 sections and 27,000 pages. Add state laws plus the federal regulations that include criminal penalties and this number grows into the hundreds of thousands.

The criminal code is so broad and so confusing that Americans sometimes can’t help but run afoul of it. Once they do, their lives can quickly and permanently be ruined. A staggering number of criminal laws and regulations lack “intent” and “knowledge” requirements, which protect unwitting Americans who have no reasonable way of knowing they committed a crime. The list of nonviolent offenses is so broad that everyday activity can often be criminal. And many federal and state crimes are accompanied by mandatory minimum sentences that force minor lawbreakers into unjust prison terms.

Parts of this argument I simply can’t get behind. Much of that feeling is summed up in the ancient adage that ignorance of the law is no excuse and the idea that the legal code is so byzantine that people can’t help but run afoul of it is rarely the case. The vast majority of laws – even if they are poorly written or overly harsh – deal with actual issues of right and wrong. If you don’t know the difference between the two then you are exhibiting one well established form of insanity. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem if you knowingly do something you shouldn’t (such as dumping Clorox on your husband’s girlfriend’s doorknob) and then find out you’re essentially on trial for war crimes. When it comes to the case of the Atlanta teachers and school administrators who were caught cheating, I’m sure they knew they were breaking the rules, gaming the system and doing a disservice to the children in their care. But I’m also fairly sure they didn’t think they were going to take a RICO pinch for it and get nearly a decade in the crowbar motel.

(I will pause here to note that I’m largely excluding the tax code from this discussion, along with a number of “white collar” crimes in areas such as copyright infringement and patent laws. The tax code is just an abomination and some rules in the latter examples are well beyond the range of the layman and require specialized attorneys. For purposes of this debate, I’m referring more to laws which cover things which are essentially found in the ten commandments: hurting or killing other people, taking their things and the rest of the general rules of civilized behavior.)

Perhaps the federal and state legal codes could use a fresh pass for the 21st century and some sort of public debate on a plan to simplify them. The laws absolutely should be simple enough for any person who sincerely wants to abide by them to understand, and perhaps there are large numbers which could be combined and boiled down to some easier to digest statutes. I’m positive that the drug laws could use a fresh look. Unfortunately, this would be a massive undertaking and I’m not sure that the public will to even begin such a housekeeping effort exists.


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Comments

Van Jones…

Stopped reading.

NotCoach on April 20, 2015 at 1:23 PM

The answer to “Do we need to streamline [Government function]?” is presumptively “YES!”

The Monster on April 20, 2015 at 1:26 PM

There’s no viable solution to this, that excludes public recognition of God.

listens2glenn on April 20, 2015 at 1:28 PM

Hah, try to get a politician, bureaucrat, or government executive through a set of prison doors.

antipc on April 20, 2015 at 1:29 PM

One thing I will say is that a law that is too complex for the layman to understand is a law the layman shouldn’t be expected to OBEY.

The reason why ignorance of the law has traditionally been no excuse in Western civilization is because the law isn’t supposed to be too voluminous and complex for the citizen to not be ABLE to know.

Really there is very little that should be illegal to begin with. 99.9% of all the laws we actually need are in the 10 Commandments. Things such as:

1. Do not murder or assault others
2. Do not steal the property of others

Basically those are the only laws we really need to be honest with you. It’s not that hard.

ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 1:33 PM

When it comes to the case of the Atlanta teachers and school administrators who were caught cheating, I’m sure they knew they were breaking the rules, gaming the system and doing a disservice to the children in their care. But I’m also fairly sure they didn’t think they were going to take a RICO pinch for it and get nearly a decade in the crowbar motel.

You left out the part where they got money (bonuses) as a result of that cheating. It was a little bit more than an “oopsie” over breaking the rules.

Happy Nomad on April 20, 2015 at 1:33 PM

I believe there’s a saying about how it’s difficult to control a law-abiding citizen. The key is to make sure it’s impossible to actually be a law-abiding citizen since the law is obscure and often it’s application varied.
While prosecutor’s face no penalty for falsely convicting someone, there’s a huge incentive created to accept some sort of plea bargain even if you’re innocent. The system has created such an imbalance that you are charged with 854 crimes unless you plea bargain down.

darury on April 20, 2015 at 1:33 PM

We sure do. We could start by making a three-strikes-and-you’re-out law. Out means dirt nap. Period.

The second thing we could do is to jail judges who get reversed more than 33% of appeals. The third thing we could do is abolish Bar Associations that license attorneys.

I could go on but this is a comment, not a book.

platypus on April 20, 2015 at 1:36 PM

But this isn’t so much a question about “streamlining” as it is “right-sizing”. “That government governs best which governs least.”

Some of the things we ask government to do should instead be done by the private sector.

Some of the things we ask state governments to do should instead be done by counties or cities.

Some of the things we ask the national government to do should instead be done by states.

Some things should be illegal, but punished by fines, loss of privileges, etc.; reserving incarceration to those who have used violence or its threat in the commission of their crimes. For anyone who is not a significant risk to the safety of others, we should not waste our limited prison resources. Better that they should be earning a living and paying a portion of their earnings for restitution rather than costing the taxpayer to warehouse.

The Monster on April 20, 2015 at 1:36 PM

Hah, try to get a politician, bureaucrat, or government executive through a set of prison doors.

antipc on April 20, 2015 at 1:29 PM

Tom Delay and Bob McDonnell might disagree with your attitude.

Happy Nomad on April 20, 2015 at 1:37 PM

Are we just putting too many people in jail?

Yes. Perhaps we could start with people who earned the death penalty, and actually start implementing it.

Why is a liberal concerned about too many people in prison, even as he rails against the death penalty for horrendous crimes?

Also, why do we have 4500 federal crimes? Are they documented in the US Constitution? Somehow I doubt it. If we adhered to The Law (capitalized, recognizing the US Constitution as the supreme law of our nation), then we wouldn’t have this problem. These would be state issues.

But then I’m pretty sure Van Jones isn’t concerned about that, but about how he can use this topic to exert more control (adding more laws in the process) over our “free” citizens.

dominigan on April 20, 2015 at 1:40 PM

Tom Delay and Bob McDonnell might disagree with your attitude.

Happy Nomad on April 20, 2015 at 1:37 PM

Those two have something in common, if I could just put my finger on it.

antipc on April 20, 2015 at 1:41 PM

Also, why do we have 4500 federal crimes? Are they documented in the US Constitution? Somehow I doubt it. If we adhered to The Law (capitalized, recognizing the US Constitution as the supreme law of our nation), then we wouldn’t have this problem. These would be state issues.
dominigan on April 20, 2015 at 1:40 PM

How can there be 4500 Federal Crimes when the Federal Government only has between 30-35 Enumerated Powers?

ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 1:45 PM

When the teachers unions makes them effectively untouchable prosecution may be the only option left.

agmartin on April 20, 2015 at 1:49 PM

You only need 10 laws.

Snowblind on April 20, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Part of the problem lies in the use of the standard criminal justice system to enforce the myriad of civil laws.

We need to recognize that most of the civil codes are not about crime, rather they are policies used to modify behavior. Those should not, in any way, be enforced with imprisonment of any kind.

That alone would alleviate much of the problem of creating criminals out of nothing and overcrowded venues of incarceration.

Neitherleftorright on April 20, 2015 at 1:58 PM

You only need 10 laws.

Snowblind on April 20, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Really you only need two:

1. Don’t commit acts of violence against others.
2. Don’t steal from others.

That’s all you need to have a civilization.

Note that islamic law lacks both of these…

ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 2:00 PM

We need to recognize that most of the civil codes are not about crime, rather they are policies used to modify behavior. Those should not, in any way, be enforced with imprisonment of any kind.

That alone would alleviate much of the problem of creating criminals out of nothing and overcrowded venues of incarceration.

Neitherleftorright on April 20, 2015 at 1:58 PM

Just wait till the first person is sent to San Quentin for using too much water in California.

It is inevitable.

ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 2:02 PM

Much of that feeling is summed up in the ancient adage that ignorance of the law is no excuse and the idea that the legal code is so byzantine that people can’t help but run afoul of it is rarely the case.

Gotta disagree with you there, Jazz. There are way, way too many criminal laws on the books and the worst of this problem is at the federal level.

The growth of laws and regulation in America has reached the point that pretty much everyone is a felon, whether they know it or not.

novaculus on April 20, 2015 at 2:04 PM

We need to recognize that most of the civil codes are not about crime, rather they are policies used to modify behavior. Those should not, in any way, be enforced with imprisonment of any kind.

We should think very carefully before we decide to imprison people for violating malum prohibitum laws (as opposed to malum in se laws).

Ash on April 20, 2015 at 2:13 PM

Well, it would be easier to have everything just be a felony.

WryTrvllr on April 20, 2015 at 2:16 PM

Steve Martin had a good idea that might go a long way to eliminating a lot of problems and people, Death Penalty for parking tickets.

Neitherleftorright on April 20, 2015 at 2:22 PM

you and a native american friend go for a walk.
you see feathers lying on ground.
you both pick one up.
which one of you risks jail time?

yeah ignorance of the laws today IS a valid excuse.

dmacleo on April 20, 2015 at 2:22 PM

Hey, I am totally cool with the Department of Education having a SWAT team. Doesn’t every education department need a SWAT team to chase down deadbeats?

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/376053/united-states-swat-john-fund

Free range kids? Go directly to jail. Advocate for marijuana and have your kids learn the same arguments? Go to jail.

http://reason.com/blog/2015/04/20/kansas-activist-could-face-felony-charge

Going to jail for building a shed on a puddle – I mean wetlands area – in the corner of your yard? Totally calls for $75,000 of fines a day, followed by jail time for non-payment.

http://www.businessinsider.com/justices-epa-sackett-wetlands-2012-1

Unknowing use imported wood to make guitars while donating to the Republican party? Even if Madagascar said it was exported legally? Tough. Get raided and plead guilty to a crime. Use the same guitar as a musician? That’s ok, since you are probably a lefty voting young musician.

http://www.redstate.com/diary/Bluey/2011/10/20/gibson-guitar-ceo-to-president-obama-stop-persecuting-my-company/

Campaign Election Laws? Totally not designed to require 10 lawyers for a startup candidate to navigate making it more difficult to unseat incumbents. Even better if in Wisconsin those laws are pursued in secret kangaroo courts exclusively against Scott Walker and friends. Its secret black money electioneering and illegal coordination. Lock ’em up.

http://legalinsurrection.com/2015/04/wisconsin-dems-used-battering-rams-against-scott-walker-supporters-literally/

Lets create “hate laws” for things like speech and murder and everything else too. Because murder totally isn’t a hate crime – but let’s add a layer on top.

Yep, sure, Jazz, this is all just fine. No problems here. Just move along. All you right wing nutjobs just be quiet while we pass some more laws.

PrincetonAl on April 20, 2015 at 2:24 PM

It is inevitable.
ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 2:02 PM

Probably, here near where I live you can go to jail and be fined up to $50,000 for setting foot on a beach area that has been designated Snowy Plover habitat. Makes no difference if you were aware of the law or not. Insanity prevails.

Neitherleftorright on April 20, 2015 at 2:25 PM

I think when the Constitution was signed, there were 3 federal laws on the books.

booger71 on April 20, 2015 at 2:35 PM

Prison needs to be harsher, more like boot camp, less like criminal college.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2015 at 2:36 PM

We sure do. We could start by making a three-strikes-and-you’re-out law. Out means dirt nap. Period.

platypus on April 20, 2015 at 1:36 PM

CA voters enacted a three strikes law in 1994 (not quite you version however) then turned around in 2014 and gutted it.

BTW, the death penalty in CA is an urban myth.

antipc on April 20, 2015 at 2:40 PM

1. Do not murder or assault others
2. Do not steal the property of others

Basically those are the only laws we really need to be honest with you. It’s not that hard.

ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 1:33 PM

Call me a big government fan but I’d rather keep the antitrust law on the books. And those dealing with child pornography. And maybe a few others I can’t think of right now.

Rix on April 20, 2015 at 2:46 PM

You are kidding of course? Our elected offices from the sheriffs to the President swear to uphold our Constitution and we have one of the most corrupted governments on the planet. Tens of thousands of federal employees are delinquent in payment of their income taxes but there seems to be a double standard here. I commit perjury if I lie but politicians are not. If I become high profile in my accusations of corruption in government I become a target.

mixplix on April 20, 2015 at 2:48 PM

The reason for lower crime rates today is that more crimnals are in jail instead of on the streets committing crimes. I remember Gov. Carrol Cambell remarking that prisons are the most cost effective anti-crime tool going. He cited the average number of burglaries committed a year by a burglar and used that number to divide the cost of imprisoning him and found he was preventing crimes for a rather small price. This is a lesson worth remembering as the crime rate will explode if the left gets to open the jail cells with this kind of anecdote illogic.

KW64 on April 20, 2015 at 2:50 PM

As both a former law enforcement officer, current private security director, and with a degree in Criminal Justice, I wholeheartedly believe that our Criminal Codes need to be updated. Many of the crimes and punishments mentioned in the article above are ludicrous in the extreme, but we expect reasonable DAs and smart Defense Attorneys to stop that kind of crap. As a police officer, I once arrested a man for “Improper Disposal of Human Waste” under the state environmental code, rather than “Urinating In Public” under the umbrella of “disorderly conduct.” The reason? The first is a Class A misdemeanor. The second is a Class C. My belief would be the that DA would argue the guy’s attorney down to pleading guilty of the Class C with time served. He’d be the slammer a day. Fitting. But that said there are tons of laws that just don’t make sense today, or are written with bias. Take for example, the crack cocaine punishments vs powdered. Same drug – but demographically different users – and thus different punishments, with the worse going to crack cocaine users.

In reality we need to remember that the criminal justice system is designed to provide justice to redress wrongs, incapacitation to prevent further harm to society, rehabilitation to educate offenders on proper behavior, and to provide a deterrent against repeat offenses or others emulation of criminal behavior. Why are we incarcerating non-violent offenders? The solution is simple:

Create a momentary punishment system for non-violent offenders. You steal or damage XYZ with dollar amount $123. You are found guilty the court orders you to pay $369. $123 for the state, $123 for the victim, $123 for county/district/court/whatever. Second offense or can’t pay? That’s fine. You are sentenced to work in a state work facility making chairs or whatever. You are paid minimum wage and one third of your salary goes to pay your room and board, one third to pay your fines, and one third into an escrow account to take with you. Evenings? Free educational opportunities. Leave? That’s fine. Pay off your fines. Otherwise don’t pay or commit a non-violent fine a third time? Go to the big boy house with the really bad VIOLENT people.

eyesights on April 20, 2015 at 2:50 PM

The vast majority of laws – even if they are poorly written or overly harsh – deal with actual issues of right and wrong. If you don’t know the difference between the two then you are exhibiting one well established form of insanity.

Massachusetts just passed a law mandating that you have to use your headlights if you have your wipers on.

Is is arguable whether the average resident of the state knows the change in law. How on earth could one expect someone from say Iowa driving through to know that?

There are too many laws, and if we can’t get rid of them it is well past time to presume that everyone knows that they are.

18-1 on April 20, 2015 at 3:11 PM

Occam’s razor knife

corona79 on April 20, 2015 at 3:23 PM

I will pause here to note that I’m largely excluding the tax code from this discussion, along with a number of “white collar” crimes in areas such as copyright infringement and patent laws

You gotta be kidding me? The point is that there should be “malum in se” (criminal) and malum prohibitum” (should be dealt with in the civil system). Blurring the lines between the two benefits no one (except the vast number of people who get paid to in one way or another administer the criminal justice system).

Progressive Heretic on April 20, 2015 at 3:24 PM

In Chicago on 4-20…

Declaring, “We’re not being soft on crime. We’re being smart,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez today signaled a wholesale change in how Illinois’ largest prosecutor’s office will handle prosecution of those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and even heroin.

Fallon on April 20, 2015 at 3:34 PM

Whether we have too many laws on the books is an entirely separate issue from the number of people we have incarcerated.

Incarceration rates are high for 2 reasons; one, as a society we have decided that locking people up is the appropriate response to law-breaking and two, we have been creating a larger and larger and LARGER feral underclass of males who were bred by sperm donors and nominally raised by inadequately socialized females who are virtually employed by the state to produce said feral children.

Society has always had a poor criminal underclass that was to some extent self-limiting; the difference is today that the American underclass is supported by tax dollars and given food, housing, medical care that is more than adequate to sustain life with a little left over for Colt45 and Newports. Nice extras such as iPhones, and 20″ rims are paid for from their criminal activity.

Good work if you can get it.

Dolce Far Niente on April 20, 2015 at 3:37 PM

We need an 8 year sunset on federal regulations and a 10 year sunset on all federal laws.

Besides, getting rid of old forgotten laws and regulations, this will keep Congress and the bureaucracy busy and out of making new laws.

J_Crater on April 20, 2015 at 3:48 PM

One reason violent crime rates are falling is that so many criminals are off the streets and in prison. These are not unrelated stats.

~~

Of course we all demand the violent offenders be locked away as long as possible. No brainer there. But then, we have all these minimum mandatory sentencing laws, passed in the heat of public passion over this or that (but mainly drugs), that eliminate judicial discretion.

Add to them the white collar criminals who can’t be allowed lighter sentences even though there was no violence, because racism or something. So things get pretty crowded, and we start being forced to release violent offenders due to overcrowding because they are the only ones without mandatory sentences.

~~

Judicial discretion was abused in the ’60s and ’70s, especially, which provoked much of the law-and-order backlash resulting in these draconian sentencing laws.

But the proper cure for bad judging is better judges, not more laws and restrictions. In fact, there is just no substitute.

Adjoran on April 20, 2015 at 4:06 PM

Get in line!

Tax code first.

Take care of the law abiding citizens first. Then we’ll take a look at the criminals.

Oxymoron on April 20, 2015 at 4:09 PM

The GOP Presidential candidates should come up with a list of the Federal laws and regulations they would repeal and departments and agencies they would close.

The one with the biggest list wins.

Dexter_Alarius on April 20, 2015 at 4:17 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but won’t Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be facing these same charges in MA State Court? If so, why were the Feds involved?

What I’m getting at is this: Why should crimes that are handled at the state level duplicated at the Federal level?

Mommys Little Darling on April 20, 2015 at 4:20 PM

Why don’t we start with Federal “Hate Crimes” laws? Let the states handle those cases, without the Feds coming in and sticking their noses in so their raison d’être is justified. Just think–we might be able to shrink the size of the Department of Justice this way because all of the lawyers won’t be necessary.

Mommys Little Darling on April 20, 2015 at 4:24 PM

Yes.
Next stupid question?
And the Civil Code too.
And all state and municipality code books as well.

One thing I will say is that a law that is too complex for the layman to understand is a law the layman shouldn’t be expected to OBEY.

The reason why ignorance of the law has traditionally been no excuse in Western civilization is because the law isn’t supposed to be too voluminous and complex for the citizen to not be ABLE to know.

Really there is very little that should be illegal to begin with. 99.9% of all the laws we actually need are in the 10 Commandments. Things such as:

1. Do not murder or assault others
2. Do not steal the property of others

Basically those are the only laws we really need to be honest with you. It’s not that hard.

ConstantineXI on April 20, 2015 at 1:33 PM

Jazz & ConXI mention the Ten Commandments, but you really only need three:
If it’s not yours, leave it alone.
Keep your hands to yourself.
If you mess it up, you clean it up.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:39 PM

Way too much common sense in this one.

But this isn’t so much a question about “streamlining” as it is “right-sizing”. “That government governs best which governs least.”

Some of the things we ask government to do should instead be done by the private sector.

Some of the things we ask state governments to do should instead be done by counties or cities.

Some of the things we ask the national government to do should instead be done by states.

Some things should be illegal, but punished by fines, loss of privileges, etc.; reserving incarceration to those who have used violence or its threat in the commission of their crimes. For anyone who is not a significant risk to the safety of others, we should not waste our limited prison resources. Better that they should be earning a living and paying a portion of their earnings for restitution rather than costing the taxpayer to warehouse.

The Monster on April 20, 2015 at 1:36 PM

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:40 PM

Part of the problem lies in the use of the standard criminal justice system to enforce the myriad of civil laws.

We need to recognize that most of the civil codes are not about crime, rather they are policies used to modify behavior. Those should not, in any way, be enforced with imprisonment of any kind.

That alone would alleviate much of the problem of creating criminals out of nothing and overcrowded venues of incarceration.

Neitherleftorright on April 20, 2015 at 1:58 PM

Not to mention, should not be enforced with lethal weapons.
SWAT teams coming after people for overdue college loans come to mind.
Among other notable recent cases.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:42 PM

Steve Martin had a good idea that might go a long way to eliminating a lot of problems and people, Death Penalty for parking tickets.

Neitherleftorright on April 20, 2015 at 2:22 PM

The Broken Window policy in NYC worked pretty well.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:42 PM

The reason for lower crime rates today is that more crimnals are in jail instead of on the streets committing crimes. I remember Gov. Carrol Cambell remarking that prisons are the most cost effective anti-crime tool going. He cited the average number of burglaries committed a year by a burglar and used that number to divide the cost of imprisoning him and found he was preventing crimes for a rather small price. This is a lesson worth remembering as the crime rate will explode if the left gets to open the jail cells with this kind of anecdote illogic.

KW64 on April 20, 2015 at 2:50 PM

Nice to know, a citation would be useful.
Death penalty does have a small deterrent effect on other people, but most of the gains are from preventing the crimes and murders the perp would have committed after leaving jail (even life sentences aren’t really to the end of the criminal’s life, most of the time).

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:46 PM

eyesights on April 20, 2015 at 2:50 PM

Excellent comment.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:47 PM

I took issue with this statement by Jazz as well, but didn’t have a ready counter-example.

The vast majority of laws – even if they are poorly written or overly harsh – deal with actual issues of right and wrong. If you don’t know the difference between the two then you are exhibiting one well established form of insanity.

Massachusetts just passed a law mandating that you have to use your headlights if you have your wipers on.

Is is arguable whether the average resident of the state knows the change in law. How on earth could one expect someone from say Iowa driving through to know that?

There are too many laws, and if we can’t get rid of them it is well past time to presume that everyone knows that they are.

18-1 on April 20, 2015 at 3:11 PM

We have (sort of) schedules for our laws, with diminishing punishments, but we need number 4, with a warning rather than a punishment:
(I) Intuitively obvious malum pro se: murder, theft, kidnapping, battery, etc.
(II) Reasonably predictable gray areas: manslaughter, embezzlement, abusive relationships, etc.
(III) You know you need to look it up first: zoning, patents, building, etc.
(IV) everything else – no presumption that the public knows it’s illegal.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:54 PM

Malum in se, that is; was thinking of malum per se, which is also wrong but closer.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:56 PM

On I-94 in Detroit there is a big billboard “carjacking is a federal crime!”

HuH? Carjacking is a very local event, The FBI got its start with bank robbery and kidnapping, usually local crimes, but that was then and now they should be reined in.

If it’s a crime in the state where it is committed than it shouldn’t be a Federal offense, nothing will stop the Feds from helping with the investigation, but take away their jurisdiction.

If a crime is a direct attack on Federal authority…counterfeiting for example, fine, it’s a federal offense

halfbaked on April 20, 2015 at 6:00 PM

The FBI got its start with bank robbery and kidnapping, usually local crimes, but that was then and now they should be reined in.

I know the “Federal Jurisdiction” ploy came into play with the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder, but didn’t bank robbery become a “Federal Crime” after the government put the American taxpayer on the hook to cover bank deposits with the creation of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) and later with the creation of the FSLIC (Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation) and NCUA (National Credit Union Administration)?

If it’s a crime in the state where it is committed than it shouldn’t be a Federal offense, nothing will stop the Feds from helping with the investigation, but take away their jurisdiction.

If a crime is a direct attack on Federal authority…counterfeiting for example, fine, it’s a federal offense
halfbaked on April 20, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Not “halfbaked” at all.

Mommys Little Darling on April 20, 2015 at 8:12 PM

Simple but congress won’t do it so it has to be set forth via a constitutional amendment. All legislation must have a sunset that can’t be extended. For instance all tax laws must sunset in 10 years automaticslly. If a particular piece of legislative is deemed useful, it has to be passed via 2 thirds majority in both houses and signed by POTUS. Criminal laws have a sunset of 7 years, regulations sunset on 3 or 5 years by some category. Because each legislation is identified by a new numbering system with the year of enactment in the code, you can only be prosecuted by codes in effect. Any that expire must be renewed and recode otherwise moot. We have too many on the books because congress can’t be bothered to go back.

Upside us that Congress is then kept busy renewing laws and have less time to make up new ones. Also, anytime a law is ambiguous, the vantage goes to the citizen until courts rule otherwise. Also, agencies are stripped of law making powers, any regulation with force of law via fines, penalties and prosecution must be enacted rule for rule by congress. The agencies can only enforce the rules they are charged with, not make them.

AH_C on April 20, 2015 at 9:53 PM

We have (sort of) schedules for our laws, with diminishing punishments, but we need number 4, with a warning rather than a punishment:
(I) Intuitively obvious malum pro se: murder, theft, kidnapping, battery, etc.
(II) Reasonably predictable gray areas: manslaughter, embezzlement, abusive relationships, etc.
(III) You know you need to look it up first: zoning, patents, building, etc.
(IV) everything else – no presumption that the public knows it’s illegal.

AesopFan on April 20, 2015 at 5:54 PM

You nailed it. Each of these classes should have an automatic sunset after x years of enactment. The tax code, each piece should also have a sunset of 10 years – the length allows for stability and longterm planning by individuals and businesses. If any law turns out to be ill-conceived, congress can repeal it sooner than later otherwise let it flow until it expires. I’m halfway tempted to caveat that if it’s bad in the favor of the taxpayer, the taxpayer could continue to claim it until sunset but you know congress will figure out a way to tilt it in favor of their sponsors. Much like Corker turned what should have been a straightforward ratification of Oboobi’s Iran deal into the opposite, requiring a supermajority to reject the deal.

AH_C on April 20, 2015 at 10:11 PM