Citizens are currently at risk of legal trouble for unknowingly committing minor offenses; Minnesota is adding 46 new crimes to the books each year
NEW YORK, NY – Minnesota residents face risk of prosecution for unknowingly breaking a growing and unnavigable list of ambiguous and redundant laws and regulations. A new report from the Manhattan Institute details the size and scope of Minnesota’s overcriminalization problem—and what to do about it. The report is the latest in the Manhattan Institute’s “Overcriminalizing America” project, which identifies and assesses potentially harmful trends in state criminal codes.
Despite the repeal of 1,175 unnecessary laws in 2014, Minnesota still has many obscure crimes on its books. Many of these do not require criminal intent, meaning individuals can be held criminally responsible for unknowing violations. For example, residents can face legal penalties for something as silly as chasing a greased pig.
The breadth and complexity of the criminal code puts well-intentioned individuals in unnecessary legal jeopardy and stretches scarce law enforcement resources that could be devoted to prevention and prosecution of serious crimes. The problem is only growing: authors James R. Copland and Rafael Mangual find Minnesota is adding an average of 46 new crimes to the books each year.
They suggest three reforms:
- Pass a bill that requires courts to presume a criminal intent requirement for all crimes unless the legislature clearly states otherwise.
- Create a bipartisan legislative task force to organize and clarify criminal statutes and regulations.
- Regular review of criminally-enforceable laws and regulations on the books with an eye toward identifying candidates for repeal or civil (rather than criminal) enforcement, much like the state did in 2014.