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The protections against unjust criminal prosecution and punishment provided by the Bill of Rights, the structure of the Constitution itself, and traditional notions of criminal law are undermined by the current trend of overcriminalization. Among the approximately 4,500 criminal offenses in the U.S. Code – and tens of thousands in the Code of Federal Regulations – are innumerable examples of offenses drafted using language that is so vague and broad that it covers an ill-defined and ever-expanding range of conduct.
As an example of overcriminalization’s destructive effects, the federal government’s unbounded criminalization invites and induces the executive branch (prosecutors) and judicial branch (courts) to define and expand the scope of the law – an exercise of the lawmaking power that the Constitution grants only to Congress. Similarly, Congress sabotages the structural safeguards of the Constitution’s separation of powers by routinely devolving its power to create criminal offenses and penalties upon federal agencies.
Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General and Governor of Pennsylvania, has written and spoken widely about these and similar problems of overcriminalization that unjustifiably expand the scope and power of the federal government and jeopardize the American constitutional system.
More About the Speakers
The Honorable Richard L. Thornburgh
Former U.S. Attorney General and former Governor of Pennsylvania
Brian W. Walsh
Senior Legal Research Fellow