Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent

Author: Harvey Silverglate
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by archivefile   2018-11-10

by ShadowLiberal   2018-11-10

If you really want to get technical, the average American commits 3 felonies a day due to some ridiculously vague laws (like CFAA, which for example is so broadly written it allows federal prosecutors to criminally prosecute you merely for violating the TOS on a website). But the thing is those ridiculously vague and broad laws that everyone violates on a daily basis are almost never enforced, except as a way to prosecutors extra leverage in plea bargains.

But I highly doubt that this was what the person quoted was referring to. They sounded like they were talking about serious crimes, not stuff that shouldn't even be illegal.

by ylan64   2018-11-10

Well, laws are made to be broken, so that the authorities always have something on you when they want ( .

The Germans, loving rules, also love enforcing them I guess, even the most insignificant ones.

Of course, all I'm saying here comes mostly from stereotype and is tongue in cheek and shouldn't be taken seriously.

by pipechap   2018-11-10

He might be partisan but he's not entirely wrong:

by bertcox   2018-11-10

It is in their eyes.

by Igggg   2018-11-10

"Just lock'em up away and throw away the key" was the whole point of the Drug War. It didn't go well, as you probably know.

Some crimes are malum per se, and need to be punished in all cases; murder is one example. Others are malum prohibitium, and then your argument is "let's punish people simply because there's a law on the books". If you were to strictly enforce all exiting laws, you'll end up arresting majority of the U.S. population .

You may well know that heroin is quite addictive, and simply throwing people in prison isn't exactly the best solution to the societal issues that heroin is causing. Otherwise, why even have a needle exchange? Just arrest all drug users and give him the twenty-year prison sentences they deserve according to the laws on the books.

by psion01   2018-11-10

Do you have any idea how many local, state, and federal laws and regulations there are that can wind up putting you behind bars?!

You've probably committed more crimes than you know and you're just one ambitious prosecutor away from fighting fires with the bad boys!

by Lizzardspawn   2018-11-10

That people commit felonies all the time is a given. Three felonies a day

With the US code everybody is guilty of something. What the constitution tried to prevent was - I want this guy in jail, now dig at him and find something he is guilty of, so I can put him there.

My personal opinion is that the US is there - once the fed target you - they will find something.

by Nf1nk   2018-11-10

Three Felonies A Day .

We would need a hell of a lot of criminal justice reform before we even think about that.

by furluge   2018-11-10

Ok, so maybe you've never taken a look at economics or business but regulations have costs. If I, as an extermination service, want to offer my services to you, and I have to employe workers who are trained to recognize every single one of the 41,415 animals on the endangered species list on sight, and also insure myself/retain lawyers against any accidents my workers can incur, I'm going to have to pay for that. A worker of that caliber is going to be expensive, and the insurance/lawyers is going to be expensive if we're talking about the kind of penalties some people here are screaming for. That's going to be prohibitively expensive. So, if we try to follow your proposed scenario, which is very strict enforcement of endangered species laws, an exterminator working under what you're proposing has the following options.

1) Pass those costs on to the consumer by raising their rates.
2) Leave the area and do business someplace else with less regulation.
3) Go out of business.

Keep in mind that in most cases business will choose option #2 in a situation as onerous as you're proposing if they possibly can. Otherwise it's option #3. The kind of costs you'd need to meet to adhere to endangered species laws perfectly mean it's much more likely exterminators would simply go out of business. (And don't forget of course, you need to kill pests to maintain crops. Expect your food prices to skyrocket in your scenario as well.) Which of course means you'd just end up having untrained amateurs doing pest control with whatever they can lay their hands on instead. The reason exterminators aren't feeling the effects of this is because the enforcement of the laws is very lax, like many laws are. Generally for the reasons I mentioned. It's not in any politician's best interest to cause pest control prices and by extension food prices to skyrocket. They'd be dragged into the street and torn limb from limb.

Speaking of lax law enforcement, for example the average American commits around three felonies a day . If all those laws were strictly enforced you'd have the entire population inside prison cells. Laws like this generally exist to make people feel good or make it seem like the government is doing something, and they provide a useful piece of leverage or cudgel to beat someone or some company with when it's convenient. If the man in this article had never gone to the police I guarantee you he'd probably never have been fined or put in jail in the first place.

by positronicman   2018-11-10

This segment of the comic, on strict liability, is about a 10 minute read. Stick with it, it's worth the read!
* Solid primer on what these legal terms mean, where they came from, and how they've evolved in the US legal system.
* Nice historical contextualization to the larger problem of runaway, crufty law.
* Couple of good Three Felonies a Day real world examples

  • As an aside, check out A Crime a Day for exactly what it sounds like

This ought to make a good educational share for those hanging out in the land of the Twittiots.

edit: formatting

by psychoalchemist   2018-11-10

Three Mortal Sins a Day

by ptchinster   2018-11-10

> They justify all sorts of things in the name of the commerce clause.

Yup - thats a whole other can of worms.

> so your assertion that you “can’t have selective enforcement of laws” is untrue — we can and we do

We do (again, Obama era doctrine of the pot enforcement). Im saying that with 300 million people across a county bigger than Europe, having a set of rules that get impartially and unequally enforced creates an environment where certain groups will get targeted for enforcement, which is bad. Pick your group, somewhere, sometime, itll be unequally targeted. A good read related to this is this book ( .

> I could also see states bringing suits claiming that enforcement actions constitute overreach

Same here, as they should as thats the process our framework laid out, but if these polling numbers are even close to being accurate, most of America wants pot legalized, lets just fucking do it real quick thru the house and senate. Look at the last election (Nov 2017). The only thing that won hands down was pot - the majority of states voting on the issue legalized it, and national polls show like 70 or 80% of Americans not wanting pot to be a major crime.

by LLA_Don_Zombie   2018-11-10

I absolutely respect your position.

Laws changing is a very slow process, which is why we rely on courts to constantly test their application. What happens when we know the written laws are harming people but the legislative body is slow to act? Should the justice department knowingly hurt those people for years just because of a technicality? Studies and lit have alleged that the average American commits three felonies a day . I think I would rather live in a world where the justice department used their discretion colored by their humanity and empathy for its application over robotic enforcement. After all, what is the justice department for if not to help provide an environment of health and safety for the community?

Edit: just as an afterthought there’s also the issue of budget. Trial, investigation, and storage of criminals is a very expensive business. Would you rather courts, prisons, and jails be overloaded with pot smokers or be able to quickly and efficiently process people who have actually hurt others in their crimes? Discretion is very important.

by djajshgsjja   2018-09-21
It’s harder than it sounds!

by podcastman   2018-03-19

The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how...

by dyslexda   2017-12-06

Ever hear of the concept of three felonies a day? Everybody commits crimes without even realizing it, given how complex the legal code is. The more complex your personal life (the higher up you are in a company, the more political power you have in Washington, etc), the more likely you are to have been to have unknowingly broken the law. Give me a legal team and broad authority to requisition documents, and I could find laws you broke. Or laws that Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, or George Bush, or Bernie Sanders, or Gary Johnson, etc broke.

I'm not excusing Manafort. I'm saying I don't like the precedence of an investigation on Trump's campaign leading to arrests for crimes committed well before Trump's campaign. But that's apparently far too nuanced of a viewpoint, and I'm obviously a Republican shill. Oops.

by andpassword   2017-12-06

Start here .