Federal Government Mirrors Michigan Overcriminalization Efforts

Op-ed by Sen. Orrin Hatch points to overarching problems

Although the Mackinac Center focuses on overcriminalization issues at the state level, Michigan is not alone in the fight to clarify and condense crimes. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently published an op-ed in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, recommending federal reforms highly reminiscent of the Mackinac Center’s suggestions for Michigan criminal law.

The federal government, like the government of Michigan, has two major overcriminalization problems: too many crimes on the books; and a lack of a mens rea provision (the ability of the court to consider whether the person who broke the law intended to do so).

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Sen. Hatch writes:

For decades now, Congress has had the attitude that the answer to society’s ills is to criminalize more and more conduct. Whenever something bad happens, the invariable response is to create a new crime to ensure that the bad thing never happens again.

But not every bad act needs to be criminalized. In many cases, civil penalties suffice.

Moreover, the fact that something bad happens does not necessarily mean there is a hole somewhere in the criminal code that must be plugged. In most cases, existing law provides all the tools prosecutors need to bring bad actors to justice….

There are also other problems with the criminal code that Congress must address. Foremost among these is the failure of many statutes to specify the level of criminal intent prosecutors must prove to obtain a conviction. Historically, to convict, the government had to prove both that the defendant committed the criminal act and that the defendant acted with a guilty mind. This prevented government from locking people up for conduct they didn’t know was wrong.

But many modern criminal statutes fail to specify a criminal-intent requirement, leaving people vulnerable to prosecution for violating laws they don’t even know exist.

The entirety of Sen. Hatch’s op-ed is available in its entirety at the Deseret News website.

For more information on overcriminalization in Michigan, check out the Mackinac Center study Overcriminalization in the Wolverine State.

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