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Manhattan Institute

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Overcriminalizing America

press release

Overcriminalizing America

August 8, 2018

NEW YORK, NY – Ordinary citizens and businesses today face criminal liability for a dizzying array of offenses. In a new report “Overcriminalizing America,” Manhattan Institute Director of Legal Policy James Copland and Deputy Director Rafael Mangual, present an overview of the problem and suggest model legislation and executive orders for the states.

“Overcriminalization” describes both the rapid growth in the number of criminally enforceable rules and regulations—particularly those regarding conduct that is not intuitively thought of as criminal—and the erosion of traditional intent requirements and other due-process protections in criminal cases. This report is the first comprehensive look at overcriminalization at the state level, where most criminal law resides. The report builds on previous in-depth studies of the criminal codes in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, as well as additional analysis of surrounding states.

Building on the Institute’s previous findings, this paper lays out the contours of the state-level overcriminalization problem and proposes a model policy framework for state lawmakers to address the overcriminalization problem by:

  1. Reinvigorating traditional intent requirements and expanding the good-faith mistake-of-law-defense in cases not involving public order and safety;
  2. Recodifying criminal laws and paring outdated and duplicative crimes from statute books; and
  3. Reconnecting criminal lawmaking with the legislative process by limiting regulatory crime creation.

Click here to read the full report.


Brian Stewart
Director of Media Relations