This blog post was written by Christopher Gambini, a Right on Crime research associate.
The Manhattan Institute recently released a report on Oklahoma overcriminalization reform, which spotlights Oklahoma’s problematic penal code that is in need of major reworking.
Since 2010, 26 new criminal laws on average have been added annually, with 91% of them being codified outside the penal code. This fact highlights a troubling trend found in many states and the federal government: as more and more criminal statutes or regulations are written into law outside of a predictable area of a government’s code, it becomes especially difficult for lay citizens to understand what is illegal and what isn’t. Our Founders understood and foresaw the problem that this presented, when James Madison presciently observed in Federalist 62 that “it will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” With many of these laws accumulating and being enacted by un-elected officials who are unaccountable to voters, the Oklahoma penal code has become burdensome and inefficient.
The report offers a three point solution: create a bipartisan legislative task force to set guidelines for future criminal laws, create a commission to review the current penal code and offer recommendations for provisions deemed vague or ambiguous, and set a default mens rea standard for those criminal laws or regulations which are silent on the question of mental culpability.