Overcriminalization Goes to the Supreme Court

Ahead of oral arguments in U.S. v. Yates, legal experts demand an end to the proliferation of thousands of capricious federal statutory crimes

Austin, TX— In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments in U.S. v. Yates, Right on Crime, the nationally recognized conservative criminal justice reform organization, will convene a briefing on over-criminalization and prosecutorial overreach.

In this case, a Florida law enforcement officer (deputized as a federal officer by the National Marine Fisheries Service) boarded the ship of a commercial fisherman, John Yates, for an inspection of his catch of more than 3,000 fish. The officer accused Yates of catching 72 undersized red grouper. Upon second count, however, the officer only found 69 groupers. He accused Yates of throwing fish overboard, and for this alleged disposal of evidence, a federal prosecutor criminally charged Yates with violating the “anti-document-shredding” provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in the wake of the 2001 Enron accounting scandal. The violation is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The assembled legal experts will discuss solutions to prosecutorial overreach of this sort, such as strengthening mens rea protections in statutes and eliminating certain crimes altogether.

Right On Crime’s parent organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, signed an amicus brief in Yates observing that the prosecutorial overreach in the case is part of a larger trend of over-criminalization in America. Modern federal criminal law provides for almost 5,000 crimes. Historically, “crime” was a term restricted to morally blameworthy actions, but today, many ordinary activities are captured by the term. Individuals have been threatened with prosecution (and in some cases served prison time) for importing lobsters in the wrong container, mislabeling paperwork on orchids, and helping injured animals.
 
Press Briefing on Over-criminalization and U.S. v. Yates, featuring:

  • Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime
  • Vikrant P. Reddy, Senior Policy Analyst, Right on Crime
  • Adeel Bashir, Counsel for Mr. John Yates
  • William Shepherd, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • Paul J. Larkin, Jr., The Heritage Foundation
  • Pat Nolan, The American Conservative Union

 

Monday, November 3, 2014 at 1:30 PM

American Conservative Union
1331 H Street, NW |  Suite 500
Washington, DC

This event is sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the American Conservative Union, the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Kevin McVicker with Shirley & Banister Public Affairs at (703) 739-5920 or [email protected].

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Overcriminalization in America: No Home for Justice

All Jack and his wife Jill Barron wanted was a home near their family for retirement. After going through all of the necessary permitting, they purchased the land where they intended to build. But soon the EPA alleged that the land might be a wetland and began restricting building on the site. Eventually the EPA brought felony charges on Jack for bringing gravel on to his property. This sparked a legal fight that threatened Jack with federal prison.

After extensive legal fees and a great deal of time and stress on the part of the couple, a jury decided that the property had not been proved to be a wetland and found Jack not guilty. But the EPA continues to require Jack to restore the property to its original state, prohibiting his development. [Read more...]

This is the first of a series of films that looks at what happens in an overcriminalized society. A couple can lose their life savings in legal fights through overgrown bureaucracy.

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Pat Nolan: Fear of Crime and the Prison Build Up

Pat Nolan, Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation and Right on Crime Director of Outreach, talks about how being a former legislator and having served time in prison has made it clear for him to see the bureaucracy within the criminal justice system. This is a driving factor in his passion for reform. Here, on The Vera Institute “Justice In Focus”, he shares his experience.

 

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Marc Levin testifies before U.S. House Judiciary Commitee

Marc Levin, Policy Director of Right on Crime, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on the subject of over-criminalization.

Click here to watch the hearing.

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Levin, Cohen: The End of Penal ‘One-Upmanship’

Right on Crime Policy Director Marc Levin and Policy Analyst Derek Cohen write in The Crime Report:

The National Academies’ exhaustive report, “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences,” released last month, covers nearly the entire body of scholarship on the causes of the incarceration boom.

The causes, as identified by the authors, derive from a charged political arena favoring longer sentences, the trend towards harsher methods of punishment, and the rapid development of increasingly punitive drug laws.

Certainly, the last four decades of criminal justice policy reflect this.

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