Creeping Overcriminalization Threatens Ordinary Citizens
A fisherman is currently facing trial with the possibility of twenty years in prison for losing three fish. This type of rampant expansion of criminality endangers all people, and neglects a long honored judicial doctrine, the rule of lenity. This ensures that if there is a statute with two reasonable readings, the one that can be construed more leniently for the defendant must be chosen. This is a key protection of citizens’ rights in the criminal court, and ignoring it sets a dangerous precedent.
These days, calls for criminal justice reform are loudest on the political right. Corrections reform has advanced rapidly in conservative states like Texas and Georgia; Republicans like Mike Lee and Rand Paul are vocal advocates for reforming mandatory minimum sentencing; and Koch Industries is involved in a major project to improve indigent defense.
There are many reasons conservatives are engaging so deeply with criminal justice. One notable reason is that they tend to notice creeping “overcriminalization,” causing them to reflect more broadly upon the entire justice system.
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