The House of Representative’s Over-criminalization Task Force asking for the Congressional Research Service to provide a complete accounting of all felony crimes did not make banner headlines in 2013. Also, not reported was the failure to secure the information due to the lack of available resources.
A deeper dive would have uncovered felony crimes that include selling “Turkey Ham” as “Ham Turkey,” washing a fish at a non-fish-washing faucet, harassing a golfer, or consulting with a known pirate.
Federal Crimes: Complex, yet Ambiguous
The seemingly simple task requested by lawmakers was not so simple. The Federal criminal code is complex with head-scratching specifics and alarmingly broad verbiage subject to interpretation. Enforcing and sentencing are, at best, problematic.
What seems silly is actually severe. Felony crimes carry severe consequences beyond prison time. Convictions can also result in the loss of the right to vote and own a firearm. Many felons see their parental rights stripped away or lose the option to adopt children. Travel options are limited as are job searches thanks to background checks. Even finding a place to live provides few options.
Felony trials require a high burden of proof. Yet, the proceedings are often anything but error-free. Some estimates reveal between two and ten percent of guilty verdicts are based on errors with one study showing 230,000 people released from prison due to wrongful convictions.
The stereotype of the typical felon is someone uncivilized who committed an unforgivable crime and should be removed from civilized society. In reality, some people just make mistakes, while others deliberately do bad things that lead to felony convictions.
The clarion call for criminal justice reform is growing louder as evidence continues to mount that the system is not doling out justice, but unjust punishments. The government overreach that systematically strips away felons’ fundamental rights could result in the slipperiest of slopes. Soon, rights removal could seep into the normally law-abiding citizen who may commit the most harmless of misdemeanors.