Those tree-huggers over at the Wall Street Journal have published a characteristically liberal piece about how the federal government is throwing more of its citizens in prison for no good reason.
As the article starts,
For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a “guilty mind.” This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them. As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time.
The article lays the blame squarely on Congress in some pretty funny ways. It’s worth a read.
This has me wondering if the problem of overcriminalization (and, yes, if the NACDL and the Heritage Foundation both think something is a problem, then odds are it is) stems from having legislatures, instead of judges, making criminal laws.
If you have a common-law model for when crime is caused, you’re much less likely, I think, to have such weak politically-motivated and poorly-conceived crimes for people to run afoul of.