Opinion: How overcriminalization is turning everyday Americans into lawbreakers

Our country is in the midst of a crisis of criminality: At this very moment, more criminals are walking our streets than ever before. How is this possible, especially in light of the FBI’s latest statistics showing yet another drop in crime rates?

The answer lies not with the American people, but with our laws.

We have more criminals because, quite simply, we have turned everyday citizens into unwitting lawbreakers by adding layer upon layer to our criminal codes and turning nearly every conceivable misdeed into a criminal offense. Poor decisions become misdemeanors, misdemeanors evolve into felonies, and lives spin out of control in the process.

Perhaps nowhere is the absurdity of current law on better display than at the federal level. Educated guesses place the number of laws and regulations with criminal penalties at over 300,000, but no one can say with certainty how many there actually are. If the federal government with its trillions of dollars and millions of employees cannot keep track of all of these criminal penalties, what chance do ordinary people have?

Of course, this problem is hardly limited to our oft-maligned federal government. Criminal justice is largely a local affair.