What is Overcriminalization and is it a Problem?
Our Gwinnett County criminal defense attorneys explain how overcriminalization impacts individual rights, and rather than protecting public safety, makes everyone a criminal.
Overcriminalization involves making a major case out of relatively minor mistakes or errors and momentary lapses in judgment. Once charged, a conviction could result in heavy fines and court costs, a possible jail sentence, and a criminal record that follows you for the rest of your life. Our Gwinnett County criminal defense attorneys explain more about overcriminalization and why it is such a problem in our communities.
Overcriminalization: The Push to Make Every Mistake or Infraction a Criminal Case
The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, DC-based conservative think tank, defines overcriminalization as overuse and abuse of criminal laws. Rather than focusing on prosecuting serious offenders, it aims to address social and civil problems within our society and punish mistakes.
The original Framers of the Constitution were concerned that too many laws could pose a threat to personal rights and liberties. As a result, the original federal criminal code contained roughly 30 infractions. These addressed serious types of crimes, such as robberies and thefts, assault crimes, acts of fraud, murder, and treason.
In the 1980s, roughly 200 years later, the criminal code had swelled to more than 3,000 offenses. Today, it holds close to 5,000 and this is just on the federal level. There are thousands more laws enforced by state and local jurisdictions. These are all focused on either preventing or punishing a wide variety of crimes. This may seem like a good idea, but the push to make every mistake, error in judgment, or personal issue a criminal case can have detrimental effects on our communities. Rather than stopping crime, it makes everyone a criminal.
The Problem With Overcriminalization
The US Office of Justice Programs warns that overcriminalization is a serious problem. Rather than focusing on actual crimes that cause harm to others and the community at large, it diverts attention and resources towards non-criminal behavior. Examples include:
- Laws dictating morals, such as those concerning gambling or sexual behavior among consenting adults;
- Laws regulating reproduction, such as abortion and access to safe and affordable medical care;
- Laws targeting people with illnesses, such as those with alcohol or drug problems and people with mental health disorders; and
- Nuisance laws, such as loitering, disorderly conduct, open container laws, and laws prohibiting the use of objectionable language.
These divert police and prosecutors from more serious cases and have a devastating effect on those charged. It creates financial burdens, makes it harder for them to find or keep a job, fosters resentment towards the criminal justice system, and exposes them to more serious offenders. In a worst-case scenario, it turns honest, law abiding people into criminals.
Contact Our Gwinnett County Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Zimmerman & Associates represents otherwise law-abiding people who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Get the strong, professional legal representation you need to protect yourself. Call or contact Zimmerman & Associates online and request a free consultation with our Gwinnett County criminal defense attorney today.