One of Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s new projects is a series highlighting some of the most unusual examples of overcriminalization across the country. (You’ll see more on this project soon.)
Our research on overcriminalization has long focused on the ever-increasing size and scope of criminal law, which sweeps into criminal courtrooms several behaviors which pose no public safety risk and are not traditionally considered criminal acts. Equally problematic is the frequent failure of states to purge or modify old laws that fail to keep pace with changing times.
Maryland, for example, makes it a misdemeanor to leave a car “unattended until the engine is stopped, the ignition locked, the key removed, and the brake effectively set.” This effectively outlaws the use of a remote car starter. As the Washington Post notes, these devices are increasingly common, especially in cold weather states where drivers want to warm a car up to protect its transmission before getting inside. (This is a normal in Maryland where January temperatures average in the low 20s, and where the lowest temperature in 2011 was eight degrees.) Offenders risk a fine of up to $500.
A bill has been introduced to exempt the use of a “remote keyless ignition system” from the statute, but until it is signed into law (there are concerns that environmental groups may oppose the bill), then starting a car in Maryland without actually sitting inside it remains illegal.