Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Three Felonies A Day
The basic premise is that the legal code is so huge now, and there are so many laws, that the average individual doesn't know what they are. Since some of the laws make so little sense, people break them without knowing they are doing so. According to the author, the average person who leaves home and goes to work, winds up committing three felonies a day. This generally doesn't matter, because the police don't know that what you are doing is illegal either.
But, if the feds get annoyed with you, they can find one or more of these transgressions and use them to ruin a person.
For instance, I am constantly sitting up here on the mountain and saying ugly things about the government. What I say is, I believe, true. But even in these Orwellian times I hold that I can say what I think because we have freedom of speech here.
So say some petty bureaucrat in one of the hundreds of different government agencies takes umbrage at a comment I make. He can start looking over my background and he realizes that I live with national forest on three sides. So he starts looking at satellite photos of my place, just as I can do on Google. He notices that the trail around my property line, which has been worn there by years of me walking the line, at one point comes within 150 feet of the national forest boundary. The next thing I know, the feds show up in the person of the Department of Natural Resources and haul me off. I didn't know it, but there's a law against disturbing the ground within 150 feet of the forest boundary. This is a hypothetical scenario (there really is such a law), but that's how it works.
I can't find the quote, but I remember reading one where the speaker said that the stability of a nation is inversely proportional to the number and complexity of it's laws. By that rubric the United States is very unstable indeed.
Here's a blurb about the book.
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to “white collar criminals,” state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.