The law traditionally has required that a person must have indispensably acted with intent to do wrong before he or she is considered a criminal. However, in recent times, the scope of the United States’ criminal law has been stretched out that it now covers behaviors that are wrongful not because of their inherent nature but for the reason that they are prohibited by the law. As a result, numerous criminal laws today make it possible for the government to convict an individual although he or she acted without criminal intention leading to what is known as overcriminalization. Overcriminalization
Introduction The origin of modern-day criminal law can be traced back to the early feudal period. From the law’s inception, it conveyed both a practical and a moral judgment regarding the societal consequences of particular action: to be considered a crime, criminal law required that an individual must either cause or attempt to cause an unlawful damage as well as perform an act with some form of malicious objective (Overcriminalized, n. d. ). Basically, the law traditionally has required that a person must have indispensably acted with intent to do wrong before he or she is considered as a criminal.
The law did not punish simply bad intentions or thoughts to act devoid of any morally wrong deed, or acts that accomplished inadvertently unlawful ends but lacking the intent to do so, as accidents and mistakes were originally not considered crimes. However, in the United States these days, the traditional understanding of criminal law no longer holds. The law has now departed far-away from that model of legal responsibility for an act and started imposing criminal liability for particular act based on an individual’s failures of supervision, which is apparently extremely different from criminal law’s familiar historical understanding.
In view of this, modern criminal law now punishes acts which are accidental and even acts of negligence, leading to what many people believes as overcriminalization. Overcriminalization Ordinarily, overcriminalization refers to the concept that laws regulating public morality may result in a considerable diversion of judicial, prosecutorial, judicial and personnel time as well as resources. A law overcriminalizes when the costs of considering the behavior as a crime go beyond the benefits of the aforesaid crime.
It takes place when a comprehensive assessment of the consequences of treating behavior as criminal suggests that the costs of treating an act as criminal prevails over the expected advantages (Moohr, 2005, p. 806). Therefore, in classifying and identifying all the consequences of a new law, the examination necessitates that the intended criminal legislation is productive, effective, and appropriate; otherwise, the particular act is overcriminalized. Government-Sanctioned Views of Morality Criminal law was initially directed at a behavior that the society accepted as essentially wrongful and, in some sense, morally wrong.
These acts are known as malum in se or wrongs of and in themselves, such as robbery, rape, murder, etc. (Rosenzweig, 2003). However, in recent times, the scope of the United States’ criminal law has been stretched out that it now also includes behaviors that are wrongful not because of their inherent nature but for the reason that they are prohibited by the law. These acts are known as malum prohibitum, or a wrong act created by the legislature in order to uphold various perceived public good (Rosenzweig, 2003). To all intents and purposes, these regulatory crimes have come to be acknowledged as “public welfare” offenses.
Accordingly, the United States has experienced a remarkable intensification in the breadth of law enforcement prerogatives and in governmental authority. To illustrate, practically all American jurisdictions continue to add new offenses as well as increased punishments for specific “vices” concerning intentional transactions for desired services and goods, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Although numerous penal codes criminalize conducts linked to vice activity, several jurisdictions have gone even further by making criminal, for instance, the distribution of gadgets utilized for sexual stimulation.
Furthermore, following the legislation passed by Congress that expanded the prohibition on maintaining property used for drug activity, policy-makers considered anew bills that would penalize individuals who hold an “entertainment event” where drugs might be exploited (Luna, 2005, p. 705). Worse yet, the federal government actually recognizes hardly any limits in its implementation of drug laws, as shown by the abuse of the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act to look into suspected drug offenders and the prosecution of suppliers of medicinal marijuana (Luna, 2005, p.
705). Overcriminalization in the USA Nowadays, overcriminalization depicts the trend in the United States, mainly in legislative body, to exploit the criminal law to “solve” every crisis, punish every error rather than making use of appropriate civil penalties, and force Americans into harmonizing their behavior to satisfy social aspirations (Overcriminalized, n. d. ). Criminal law is intended to be applied only to redress conduct that the society believes is worthy of moral sanction and the greatest punishment.
However, as a consequence of uncontrolled overcriminalization, insignificant behavior is now normally reprimanded as a crime. Numerous criminal laws today make it possible for the government to convict an individual although he or she acted without criminal intention. Moreover, punishments have skyrocketed, mostly at the federal level, and are generally disproportionate to the severity and wrongfulness of the conduct. For instance, Delaware penalizes the sale of lotion or perfume as a beverage by up to six months of imprisonment (Luna, 2005, p.
704). In Nevada, it is a crime to disturb a congregation at worship by “engaging in any noisy or boisterous amusement,” while Alabama criminalizes the training of a bear to wrestle or the injury of one’s self to “excite sympathy” (Luna, 2005, p. 704). Moreover, Texas criminalizes the utilization of live animals as lures in dog racing; Massachusetts reprimands those who startle pigeons from their nests; Indiana prohibits the coloring of rabbits and birds; and Tennessee makes it a crime to hunt animals from an aircraft (Luna, 2005, p.
704). In turn, Virginia makes it a misdemeanor to spit in public spaces and, in South Carolina, anonymously conveying a “suggestive” or indecent message is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years (Luna, 2005, p. 704). Not to be overpowered, the federal government makes it illegal within the District of Columbia the placing of any advertisement on the U. S. flag or vice versa, along with the unauthorized use of the characters “Woodsy Owl” and “Smokey Bear” or the “Red Cross” symbol (Luna, 2005, p. 704).
In addition, numerous local ordinances in Salt Lake City carry the possibility of criminal consequences, such as failing to return library books, which is considered as a detainable offense. The aforesaid criminal law trends occurring all over the United States are advanced on behalf of the “public welfare,” an express invocation of broader social needs to the detriment of individual responsibility and liberty (Overcriminalized, n. d. ). What is particularly upsetting about the development toward diminished intent circumstances is that it is worsened by an inclination toward harsher penalties. Conclusion/Recommendations
In the past, to be considered criminal, a person had to carry out an act or attempt to carry out an act with deliberate intent to disregard the law or with awareness of the unlawful nature of his demeanor; however, nowadays it is possible for a person to be considered criminal and be locked up for a significant period of years for the failure to do an act mandated by law, without any actual awareness of the law’s requirements and with no criminal intention. Without a doubt, the landscape of criminal law today is very much altered, so much so as to be almost unrecognizable from what it was years ago.
It has drifted away from its historical roots, in view of the fact that many statutes now penalize those whose acts are unlawful merely by reason of legislative determination. As a result, the overcriminalization phenomenon weakens the moral authority of the criminal justice system, possibly to the verge of inconsequentiality for more than a few members of society. References Luna, E. (2005, October 3). The Overcriminalization Phenomenon. Washington College of Law. Retrieved June 14, 2009, from http://www. wcl. american. edu/journal/lawrev/54/luna. pdf? rd=1 Moohr, G. S. (2005, October 3).
Defining Overcriminalization Through Cost-Benefit Analysis: The Example of Criminal Copyright Laws. Washington College of Law. Retrieved June 14, 2009, from http://www. wcl. american. edu/journal/lawrev/54/moohr. pdf? rd=1 Overcriminalized. (n. d. ). About Overcriminalization. Retrieved June 14, 2009, from http://overcriminalized. com/aboutus. aspx Rosenzweig, P. (2003, April 17). The Over-Criminalization of Social and Economic Conduct. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved June 14, 2009, from http://www. heritage. org/research/legalissues/lm7. cfmSample Essay of Edusson.com