For those unfamiliar with the system, it may come as a surprise to learn how crimes are prosecuted in American courtrooms. Prosecutors have the power to choose to prosecute or not prosecute crimes. They have almost unchecked authority to make decisions that impact people's lives profoundly. Many prosecutors take their authority seriously and do their best to further the interests of justice in executing their duties. Unfortunately, there are prosecutors who abuse their power. In those cases, there is almost no oversight and little ability to address instances of misconduct.
A mountain of bad policy has resulted from a convenient political accusation. Calling someone "soft on crime" has been a way to stifle political debate and ignore logic for decades. No politician, liberal or conservative, could long withstand a reputation for being soft on crime. The result of that has been an incarceration rate unprecedented in human history, the destruction of countless lives and a cost to taxpayers that is nothing short of staggering. It is time to recognize the accusation of being soft on crime for what it is, wrongheaded fear-mongering.
There has long been debate over who commits a crime in cases of corporate misconduct. A corporation is a legal entity. It is an artificial stand-in for a person. White collar crimes, including bank fraud, mortgage fraud and wire fraud, often implicate corporations and individual employees of those corporations. Responsibility for the acts considered criminal by investigators is often spread out among a number of employees. Many of those employees may have no idea that any laws are being broken. Cases involving corporate fraud are almost always complex.
According to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts, the war on drugs has failed to accomplish its ostensible goals. Federal drug crimes are not falling. In fact, while criminal sentences in areas other than drugs have dropped over the years, drug sentences have continued to rise. From 1980 to 2011, prison sentences for people convicted of drug crimes increased by 36 percent. That was accompanied by mountains of rhetoric about getting tough on crime. Unfortunately, the result of the proliferation of federal drug laws and increasingly harsher sentences has been more crime and enormous costs passed on to taxpayers.
Saying a system is broken is not the same as saying every result reached by the system is wrong. Criminal laws are a necessary part of a functioning society. Many U.S. prosecutors work hard in the interests of justice and fairness. That said, overbroad language and uneven application of the law has created a world where simple acts of living can expose you to felony prosecution. Nothing more than luck could separate an honest, upright citizen from a lengthy prison stay and the destruction of his or her life. A review of several questionable federal laws demonstrates the problem of an overbroad law and the freedom prosecutors have to pursue questionable convictions.