Overcriminalization is not a myth. Labyrinthine regulations often produce absurd outcomes, including prison sentences for individuals who do everything in their power, including consulting multiple attorneys, to comply with the law before acting.
A recent op-ed in The Washington Times illustrates the point, using a recent Medicaid fraud case that is currently in front of a federal appeals court:
Here’s a quiz: Which of the following is a federal crime: (a) A hamster dealer needlessly tilting a hamster’s cage while in transit; (b) subliminally advertising wine; or (c) selling a fresh steak with paprika on it?
Give up? The answer: all of the above.
Right now, there are approximately 4,500 federal criminal statutes and 300,000 administrative regulations that can be punished with imprisonment — and the list keeps growing. This is an invitation for our government to over-prosecute. Too often, federal prosecutors are accepting that invitation and rejecting more measured and effective administrative and civil remedies.
In a case that was recently argued before a federal appeals court, executives at WellCare, a managed health care company in Florida, were prosecuted based on their reasonable interpretation of a Florida statute. Federal prosecutors, however, disagreed with the company’s interpretation, even though Florida never issued any regulations contradicting the executives’ reading of the law.