George Will: When everything is a crime

Tacitus cc

We have far too many laws. Every year the law books get thicker and thicker. The regs get more detailed and intrusive. The government gains more power and the average person loses more of it.

But for the lawyers and the firms with teams of lawyers, it’s a pretty good deal. They can navigate the treacherous regulatory waters that leave many of us stranded on the reef.

A crony society is a heavily lawed society.

(From The Washington Post)

The presumption of knowledge of the law is, Cottone argues, useful as an incentive for citizens to become informed of their legal duties. Complete elimination of the presumption would be a perverse incentive to remain in an ignorance that might immunize a person from culpability. But “there can be no moral obligation to do something impossible, such as know every criminal law,” let alone all the even more numerous — perhaps tens of thousands — regulations with criminal sanctions. The morality of law, Cottone argues, requires laws to be, among other things, publicized, understandable and not subject to constant changes. Otherwise everyone would have to be a talented lawyer, “a result hardly feasible or even desirable.”

Overcriminalization, says professor Reynolds, deepens the dangers of “a dynamic in which those charged with crimes have a lot at risk, while those doing the charging have very little ‘skin in the game.’ ” With a vast menu of crimes from which to choose, prosecutors can “overcharge” a target, presenting him or her with the choice between capitulation-through-plea-bargain or a trial with a potentially severe sentence.

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