The overcriminalization problem: Congressional Research Service can’t even list all federal crimes

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Madison Ruppert
Activist Post

Have you ever thought about the number of acts which the federal government has defined as criminal? Even if you have, the number is probably larger than you think.

The federal government’s approach to criminalizing just about everything reminds me of how that same entity contends that just about everything is an indicator of potential terrorist activity. Similarly, public schools have turned typical childhood behavior into a punishable offense.

The problem of overcriminalization has now spread beyond the unknown number of offenses outlined in the federal criminal code into your local school, homeland security agencies and more.

Indeed, the number is so incredibly massive, that the Congressional Research Service told a congressional task force that they simply did not have the manpower and resources required to create a tally of all criminal offenses outlined in the federal criminal code.

According to Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), “Today, there are roughly 4,500 federal crimes on the books. And still many more regulations and rules that, if not abided by, result in criminal penalties, including incarceration.”

The problem with a significant number of these offenses is that one can commit them without ever meaning to do so or with any knowledge of wrongdoing.

Harvey Silverglate, a practicing attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, newspaper columnist, and civil liberties advocate, detailed this disturbing fact in his book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.

Nowadays, Silverglate contends, just about everything you do might actually have a criminal penalty attached, thus the title of the book.

Sensenbrenner confirms Silverglate’s point in stating, “Americans must contend with literally thousands of obscure and cumbersome federal regulations, a simple misreading or ignorance of a regulation can land a person in prison.”

Molly M. Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums points out some of the massive problems facing Americans thanks to overcriminalization in a video released by the Cato Institute:

In the video, the Constitutional doctrine of nondelegation is mentioned.

Nondelegation is a doctrine which is central to the separation of powers in the Constitution. It essentially holds that the US Congress cannot delegate legislative power to any other government entities, since Congress alone is given “all legislative powers” by the Constitution.

In case law, it has been determined that when Congress instructs government agencies to regulate, it must give those agencies an “intelligible principle” on which to base their regulations.

This doctrine allows agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – which is heavily involved in electronic and physical surveillance – to carry out their activities.

However, as the interviewer from Cato points out, the doctrine of nondelegation is, “effectively, as far as I understand it, dead.”

“I think the temptation to regulate is very great at the federal level,” Gill said. “It’s a difficult temptation to resist. I think that’s true in the area of criminalization too.”

“If there’s a problem, let’s make it a crime, let’s slap a mandatory minimum sentence on it and we’ll fix the problem,” Gill said. “It’s an easy way out and sometimes it gets around some of the solutions which are probably better long term but harder to choose and harder to implement.”

Individuals in the federal government apparently fail to resist this temptation on a regular basis.

That was highlighted when Sensenbrenner said that the Congressional Research Service (CRS) could not muster the manpower to update the calculation of criminal offenses in the federal code since it was last done in 2008.

“CRS’s initial response to our request was that they lack the manpower and resources to accomplish this task,” Sensenbrenner said last month. “I think this confirms the point that all of us have been making on this issue and demonstrates the breadth of overcriminalization.”

Ultimately, one of the most significant problems, and one that is raised in the above video, is the elimination of mens rea in the criminal code.

“Unfortunately, many regulatory crimes improperly define the elements of criminality, including omitting or improperly defining the appropriate level of criminal intent,” Sensenbrenner stated.

Without this appropriate level of criminal intent, or mens rea, defined in the code, one can accidentally break a law and face federal criminal penalties for doing so.

Overcriminalization is a serious problem facing America, especially since we already have the highest prison population rate in the world, beating out every other Western country by leaps and bounds.

Note: read my latest articles, “European Parliament may call on Snowden, NSA chief and Glenn Greenwald to testify about NSA spying” and “CIA investing in research aimed at modifying the Earth’s climate for unknown reasons

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This article first appeared at End the Lie.

Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. Madison also now has his own radio show on UCYTV Monday nights 7 PM – 9 PM PT/10 PM – 12 AM ET. Show page link here: http://UCY.TV/EndtheLie. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at

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