Legal Intern, Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy
This past Wednesday, Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy hosted a conference on the topic of overcriminalization, titled Overcriminalizing the Empire State? Criminal-Law Trends in New York and the Threat to Liberty and Commerce.
The conference featured a keynote speech by Hon. Robert S. Smith, an associate judge on the New York Court of Appeals. Judge Smith discussed, amongst other topics, potential overcriminalization in the realm of child pornography prosecutions; namely, should those who simply view - rather than produce or distribute - child pornography be held criminally responsible?
The event also included a panel discussion on overcriminalization trends in New York with Gerald Lefcourt (president of the Criminal Justice Foundation of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), James McGuire (former associate justice in the First Judicial Department of New York State's Appellate Division and former chief counsel for New York governor George Pataki), Mike Miller (former assistant DA in the Manhattan District Attorney's office), and Daniel Richman (the Paul K. Kellner Professor of Law at Columbia Law School). The panel was moderated by Manhattan Institute's own Jim Copland.
Thompson Reuters legal reporter Carlyn Kolker covered the event:
Among the theories that moderator James Copland of the Manhattan Institute posited during "Overcriminalizing the Empire State? Criminal-law Trends in New York and the Threat to Liberty and Commerce" is one that today's laws go beyond traditional notions of criminality (think rape, murder, assault) and into new territory, such as regulatory crimes. Many criminal laws suffer from vagueness, says Copland, which gives prosecutors broad discretion in how to apply them.
Against that backdrop, the panelists -- a collection of judges, practitioners and a professor -- delved into deep questions, such as whether New York state's Martin Act, which governs financial fraud cases, is overly broad. Has the law, which vests the state's attorney general with deep powers, been abused? Overly used? There were few hard conclusions.
The Center for Legal Policy will continue its efforts in the area of overcriminalization and plans to host more events on the subject in the future.