Overcriminalization has become a serious issue in recent years. With more than 4,000 federal criminal laws on the books and thousands more hidden in the countless federal regulations, it’s somewhat ridiculous to expect anyone to know all of the laws that could result in a criminal conviction. It’s gotten so out of hand, in fact, that the Department of Justice is unable to tell the exact number of actions that can result in potential criminal penalties.

Overcriminalization has a number of causes, but most can point to the fact that federal legislators have begun to overreach into areas that are either previously covered or have no business being criminally regulated. This can include things such as:

  • Ambiguous criminalization of conduct without limitation
  • Enacting criminal statutes without mens rea requirements
  • Imposing liability without personal awareness or neglect evidence
  • Imposing criminal consequences on economic activity or civil enforcement areas
  • Imposing mandatory minimum sentences disproportionate to the harm or wrongfulness of an act
  • Making federal laws that cover what was already reserved for state jurisdiction
  • Adopting overlapping or duplicative statutes


One of the primary reasons for overcriminalization has to do with the ease with which regulatory bodies can impose criminal penalties for violating the regulations they impose. Everyone from the Federal Communications Commission to the Food & Drug Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency may have the best interests of the public at heart but step too far when it comes to imposing criminal penalties on what would otherwise be a civil suit or issue of tort law rather than criminal law.

Instead, members of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers suggest that these regulatory entities should be forbidden from penalizing these forms of conduct in any way beyond simple civil penalties and administrative actions. Likewise, they also suggest that any administrative agency who wishes to impose criminal penalties do so by a statute passed by Congress after thorough evaluation.

If you are facing federal criminal charges, don’t hesitate to contact a Nebraska criminal defense attorney experienced in federal criminal defense. Since 1965, Berry Law attorneys have stood up for people facing all types of criminal charges, including federal crimes.

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