The growing threat of prosecutorial power

white-collar-crime A frequent topic on this blog is the overcriminalization of American life, particularly in regard to taking business risks that create jobs for communities and wealth for citizens.

One of the most lucid writers on this disturbing trend is William Anderson (prior posts here), an economics professor at Frostburg State in Maryland. In this recent Regulation magazine article for the Cato Institute, Professor Anderson provides an excellent overview of how the federal government has gradually imposed police state-type laws on us that allow prosecutors to target citizens for a criminal case and then rationalize a crime from any number of vague criminal statutes:

The numbers tell a harsh story. In 1980, there were about 1,500 federal prosecutors and approximately 20,000 federal prisoners. Today, there are more than 7,500 U.S. attorneys and more than 200,000 federal prisoners, according to an October 2009 count. About 52 percent of federal prisoners are drug offenders, reflecting the emphasis of the ìWar on Drugs,î and while there is no specific ìwhite collarî crime category, one estimates, using Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics, that about 5 to 10 percent of the federal prison population consists of people convicted of white collar crimes.

The federal criminal code is growing. In the early days of the republic, there were three federal crimes: piracy, treason, and counterfeiting. Today, there are more than 4,000 federal criminal laws and more than 10,000 regulations that prosecutors easily can fold into the criminal statutes.  .   .  .

In surveying this sad state of affairs, Anderson notes one of the perverse incentives driving these dubious prosecutions:

The resulting near-free reign that prosecutors have in federal court is an open invitation to abuse of the law and the legal system. To make matters worse, federal prosecutors enjoy almost total legal immunity and are unlikely to face any sanctions no matter how dishonest or abusive their behavior might be; the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to U.S. attorneys. [.  .  .]

The only thing that stands between almost any American and doing a stretch in federal prison is the choice of whom prosecutors will target. This is a serious problem that shows no signs of disappearing.

The fact that one such prosecutor in Massachusetts was even seriously considered by many in that state for a position in the U.S. Senate reflects that citizens still have not grasped the extent of this awful trend in American society.

It makes one wonder what itís going to take for Americans to stand up and put a stop to this?

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