The Heritage Foundation on Overcriminalization

The Heritage Foundation, a Republican think tank, inadvertently makes the case for “civil unrest.”

Heritage Foundation

1. The criminal code should reflect common understandings of morality, rather than political opportunism (such as responding to crises to appease voters).

2. Today, it is estimated that nearly 5,000 federal statutes and more than 300,000 regulations contain potential criminal penalties.

3. Congress should identify and amend or repeal redundant, superfluous, or outmoded criminal laws.

he Framers of the Constitution were concerned that an expansive and voluminous criminal code would be a threat to the very liberty the nation had just won. The original federal criminal code outlawed approximately 30 crimes, and each statute carefully supported the needs of the new enterprise. More recent Congresses have enacted criminal laws not to protect important national interests of a modern nation, but to score political points with voters who are led to believe that outlawing more and more kinds of conduct, or increasing the penalty for conduct that is already a crime, somehow solves a crime problem.

“Overcriminalization”—the overuse and abuse of criminal law to address every societal problem and punish every mistake—is an unfortunate trend. The criminal law should be used only to redress blameworthy conduct, actions that truly deserve the greatest punishment and moral sanction.

Over the past 40 years, federal criminal law has exploded in size and scope while deteriorating in quality.


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