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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guilty, Without Criminal Intent

I recommend your reading this latest installment in a Wall Street Journal series on the federal criminal justice system and its effects on business and the society as a whole.

The growing tendency of legislators -- both in Congress and the states -- to criminalize actions, and even accidents, for which there was no criminal intent is an alarming trend that threatens to criminalize a lot of benign business activity, personal expression and pure accidents. 

There will be unintended consequences.  Down the road, the criminalization of non-crimes will increase the popular perception that those in prison were wrongfully investigated, wrongfully prosecuted and wrongfully convicted.  The problem is that bonafide criminals will then receive the same benefit of a reduced social stigma that the innocent and hapless prisoners deserve.  We will then have the stigmatization of the innocent, but reduced stigmatization, almost a reputational forbearance, for those who least deserve it.

In such a circumstance, the very notion of justice for all in an equal society will be undermined.

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