Counting the number of sections in a chapter of the General Statutes is pretty dull work. But doing it over and over again in order to see the growth in a single chapter over time may yield interesting results. In preparation for a panel discussion about overcriminalization this evening, I counted the number of sections in Chapter 14 over time. Here’s what I found:
I’m interested in readers’ reactions to the chart. Worrisome? Surprising? Appropriate? Meaningless without context?
For those in the “meaningless without context” camp, I’ll add two additional observations. First, just counting the number of sections in Chapter 14 almost certainly understates the extent to which the criminal code has grown over the years. Many of the sections themselves have grown, with new subsections defining additional crimes. And of course, many new crimes are not located in Chapter 14 at all, but rather are scattered throughout the General Statutes. Second, the Model Penal Code contains just 114 sections defining crime, by my count, while the federal criminal code contains thousands of offenses.
So, has our criminal code grown too quickly, too slowly, or is it just about right? How fast is too fast? How many crimes are too many? What sort of test can one apply to decide whether overcriminalization is a serious problem or a needless worry? Please weigh in.