The Time to Hesitate is Through: The Number of Laws Criminalizing Innocent Conduct is a Touch Too Much

by Ronald J. Lampard

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Introduction

With the explosion in the number of criminal statutes and criminal regulations, it is particularly difficult for an individual to know what conduct has been deemed criminal or noncriminal. In addition, each year lawmakers at the federal, state and local levels pass criminal laws that do not prescribe a standard of culpability. Furthermore, many of these crimes punish conduct that is not morally blameworthy. As a direct result, innocent, noncriminal conduct carries potential criminal penalties.

This paper discusses overcriminalization, mens rea, and instances where states and the federal government have sought to address these issues.