Overcriminalization is a national problem that involves misinterpretation of the law, resulting in incarceration of innocent Americans.
Many Americans believe that when a person is convicted of a crime and sent to prison, they have committed a grievous crime, such as murder or theft, and society is made a better place by having them locked away. In some situations, however, this is simply not the case. Overcriminalization has made headlines as being a major issue in New Jersey and in the United States as a whole. When the legal system is overused or misused entirely, innocent people are sent to prison and their lives are ruined forever.
This rings true for an older man in his late sixties, who was forced to enter a federal prison after he and his wife depleted their life savings in an attempt to prove his innocence, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The man suffered from heart problems, glaucoma, arthritis, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, and spent 17 months in prison for smuggling. The grandfather had started a part-time orchid importation business, and enjoyed selling his flowers at shows and to various flower collectors. Although all of the orchids were legally purchased and he had the paperwork to prove it, some of the purchase documentation was said to be invalid, resulting in a criminal conviction.
A closer look at overcriminalization
According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, there are over 4,450 crimes listed in the Federal Criminal Code. While the U.S. federal legal system is already busy processing criminal cases, including embezzlement, money laundering, drug crimes and fraud, people are being charged with unscrupulous crimes that are often the result of a legal misunderstanding or mistake. There are countless more regulatory crimes that people in America can be charged with, leading some people to wonder if and when they may be charged with a crime.
The NACDL suggests that the following factors commonly lead to overcriminalization in America:
- Enacting and enforcing repetitive statutes that overlap one another.
- Enforcing laws that lack a clear definition, leaving interpretation of the law or penalties up to the presiding judge.
- Enacting laws that have a mandatory minimum punishment, disallowing the judge to customize the penalty to fit the crime.
- Laws that mandate penalties regardless of whether the accused person knows that they have committed a crime or had the intent to do harm when participating in a certain act.
- Processing crimes through federal courts that were normally tried in state courts.
This flaw in the legal system favors punishment rather than rehabilitation, and in some cases, overlooks people’s civil rights altogether.
How an attorney can help
People who face criminal charges for white collar crimes, and who suspect they may be a victim of overcriminalization, may want to contact an established attorney. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to save your reputation by providing essential legal counsel during this overwhelming time in your life.