Overcriminalization of America – Part XXII

A chilling article in The New York Times on the fact that nearly one-third – that’s 3 in 10 – Americans are arrested by the time they turn 23.

Where some might say, look at the kids these days breaking on these laws, I say: Look at how, largely through the wars on drug and alcohol consumption, the United States has expanded the definition of crime such that activities that 40 years ago were not criminal, do lead to criminal convictions today.

The Times reports that today’s one-in-three “figure is significantly higher than the 22 percent found in a 1965 study that examined the same issue using different methods.”

And The Times attributes the rise in the rate of arrests to: “Arrests for drug-related offenses, for example, have become far more common, as have zero-tolerance policies in schools.”

In addition, schools, in the wake of Columbine and other tragedies, have clamped down on “bullying” which has meant taking a very aggressive stand against kids who pick on other kids. Where in the past bullying might result in a stern lecture by a principal or a detention, today bullying might very well lead to a criminal charge.

Other invented crimes – such as online harassment of kids through the Facebook or “sexting” (sending nude or semi-clothes pictures via cell phone) – simply didn’t exist twenty or thirty years ago. That’s not say that twenty or thirty years ago kids weren’t picking on other kids, or showing each other naked pictures of themselves etc.

It’s just to say that the technology has become so ubiquitous, and our society has become so unforgiving of minor transgressions, that many acts that in the past would get a lecture from mom, dad, or a teacher, today result in a criminal offense.

At the same time, workplaces and licensing boards have become stricter about who they admit to certain professions. This country is in danger of creating a permanent underclass of lawlessness by imposing criminal sanctions on young people who then find it very difficult to find good paying jobs.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.