Growth of Chapter 14

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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.

9 comments on “Growth of Chapter 14

  1. There were, arguably, 13 original federal crimes in 1789, and there are now somewhere around 4,450. Since we were part of the original colonies, I would say that we have shown remarkable restraint.

  2. It is amazing that, beginning with just 10 commandments, our society’s laws have grown to this. Of course the problem is that enterprising criminals constantly seek ways to circumvent the law for their own personal gain and the law is simply trying to keep up. A good example is the growth of new drugs that have been criminalized. When the drug dealer develops a new one, it takes the law a while to catch up, the same is true with cyber crime, fraud and gambling offenses (i.e. video gambling). If society chooses to deter an activity, the law has no choice but to try to keep pace.

  3. I see that tonight’s program seems to be narrowly focused on how over-criminalization impacts white-collar defendants who may run afoul of “professional norms.” While it’s true that the expansion & complexity of federal regulations, combined with the softening of criminal intent requirements (e.g., “willful blindness”), has led to situations in which business people face ever-increasing criminal liability, it would be a shame if the focus on over-criminalization stopped at its impact on the business & corporate class. I don’t think you can have a meaningful discussion of the true impact of over-criminalization in the United States without talking about its role–and the related role of over-prosecution–in the failed Drug War, which has resulted in longer & mandatory incarcerations of generations of drug offenders, increasing the U.S. prison population by 400% over the last 30 years, and destroying scores of families along the way.

    • I agree with you 100% and along with longer mandatory incarcerations lets not forget those that, because the court is in such a hurry for a conviction far too often are innocent yet convicted of crimes they did not commit. And let’s not forget the children that are sentenced to life in prison. The U.S. prison population is the highest in the world, we have become a laughing matter to other countries. England among others have abolished the felony murder rule yet the U.S. still uses it today with the exception of 5 states who have simply changed the sentencing for felony murder, which is much more fair. With our corrupt, yes I said corrupt , judicial system I can’t help but wonder what’s next. I am not afraid of many things but I do fear our courts and the way they work for the betterment of themselves. It appears the law itself is either ignored and more attention is paid on getting a conviction than real justice or our prosecuting attorneys have way too much power. At any rate, there is something terribly wrong with our total judicial system and is in dire need of help. God Bless America

  4. Not being a person seeking to make money on finding every little, crack and crevice, every little tittle and dot, that can be used to help my clients escape the judgement they deserve, I have a slightly different view of the mess.

    Moses had a heck of a time trying to understand how to please God and man, especially those female mankind. A terrible place to be. I mean, how would you like to be stuck between God and 2+ million whining Israelites?

    So, Moses gave the people what they wanted: Statutes. And that’s the basis of our constantly growing need to satisfy the constant need for more statutes.

    Since no one can live faultless before the 10, man constantly seeks a new angle to justify what they want to do. The 10 haven’t changed. I know, I digress, but it sure is fun. There is only one way around the 10, but man has sought other ways.

    Anyway, the law doesn’t justify. The law points out the crime and defines society’s punishment, but that doesn’t satisfy the ultimate requirement by the ultimate Judge.

  5. I am reminded of a quote I read in Law School, something to the effect of ” The more laws you make, the more criminals you create”. The growth of the criminal code pushes more and more people into the category of criminal and diminishes the numbers of the law abiding. At some point the numbers of those who run afoul of the system is greater than those who have not, and when this happens you no longer have majority rule. Rather, you have a ruling class whose interest in the status quo is undermined by the attitudes of the majority. Marijuana laws are a good illustration of this in that some surveys indicate that a majority of Americans favor its legalization, yet many in power steadfastly fight this trend.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you

  6. In Buncombe County we have a sign over the courthouse door that warns against varieties of speech within a 100-yard radius of the door into courthouse. I stood out in front one day and asked passersby what they thought of this law, GS 14-125.1. After I had been there near the courthouse entrance for about 30 minutes, a deputy came out and told me to leave or be arrested. So I left. Curiously enough, most of the lawyers I spoke with opined that this law was unconstitutional; and one of them, a libertarian, said he thought that some of the law’s motivation was to stop anyone from passing out Fully Informed Jury Association pamphlets. Our DA must have his piddling marijuana convictions.

    In my humble opinion as an old retired lawyer, I see alarming trends to stifle freedom of expression, and to just plain over-law the hell out of us. A few of these laws may be found in Chapter 50 and NCGS 14-196.3. We are slouching into a nanny state.

    I talked to a librarian at the General Assembly who told me the vote for the cyberstalking statute, GS 196.3 was unanimous. So much for the preservation of the First Amendment. Many North Carolinians have no love for this cyberstalking law; otherwise, the conviction rate would be better than 16%. Or perhaps this law is abused to criminalize legitimate expression, as Prof. Eugene Volokh suggests, and as I know from experience. Vagueness and overbreadth rule the day, and no one knows what “immediate scrutiny” and “content-based speech” are. Or even cares. In 1973, I had this great law professor, Arthur Bonfield, who drilled those sacred ideas about free speech into my head. The caselaw was there and we read it. It’s sad to know that nowadays there are so very few Arthur Bonfields.

    Personally I am with the great Roman lawyer and historian Tacitus who warned “The more numerous the laws the more corrupt the government.” Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges.

  7. Seems now a days there’s a law against just about everything. You can’t do this and you can’t do that. And if there’s no law against it, there is a law close enough that a conviction is swift. The more people you have, the more likely that a crime will be committed. But… I still believe in old fashion morals, prayer in schools, family dinners at the table with prayer being said before the meal, Doing for your neighbors when they are in need, respecting your elders, etc. Our country will never be the same as it used to be and it’s not because of crime, it’s because of loss of our values. With high values and good morals, there wouldn’t be as much crime. Crime has always been there and always will be but through the years I have seen the decay of our way of life. And I also think the sentencing of certain crimes are is too fast in coming and too harsh for the crime committed. Putting someone in prison for life is not going to stop drugs from being sold, and sentencing children to life in prison is just down right wrong regardless of the crime, in my opinion.

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