Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Levin: Time to Rethink What's a Crime

The prolific Marc Levin at the Texas Public Policy Foundation last month published a short paper (pdf) titled "Time to Rethink What's a Crime." Here's a notable excerpt:
Texas can’t arrest its way out of a recession, but many policymakers act as if we could. During the 81st legislative session, the Senate passed legislation creating a criminal penalty for establishments that serve food with transfats, with only seven Senators deciding they couldn’t stomach this legislation. A loophole in the bill exempted “fried yeast,” i.e., donuts. Though the measure died in the House, the Legislature still created 40 new offenses and dozens of penalty enhancements.
What's more, he writes:
with so many sweeping and often ambiguous criminal laws, including those that are created every week by regulatory agencies without the approval of elected offi cials, it is impossible for any person or business to regularly stay abreast of the line between what is legal and what is criminal. Moreover, the deluge of overly broad and vague criminal laws gives police and prosecutors virtually untrammeled authority to arrest and indict anyone. In Texas, a person can be arrested for any crime — even a Class C misdemeanor — other than speeding or an open container of alcohol.
One of his recommendations harks back to a regular Grits beef about what costs are (or more accurately, are not) assigned to penalty hikes and new crimes in the legislative budget process. Levin suggests the Legislative Budget Board "improve fiscal notes so that they state the full cost of the bill, including prosecutorial and judicial expenditures and the appointment of counsel for indigent defendants," noting that "the fiscal note is often zero for many enhancement bills when in fact there are likely to be costs." Marc's being generous. Actually the fiscal note is nearly always zero for so-called "enhancement" bills, as though arresting, adjudicating and incarcerating people for more and more crimes costs nothing at all.

I consider LBB's failure to accurately assign costs to such bills a major factor in why Texas' incarceration boom so greatly surpassed the state's ability to pick up the tab, necessitating the 2007 probation reforms: Lawmakers for years have pretended that each incremental increase in incarceration was free. However that was nothing but a self serving lie - one the state can't afford to indulge any longer.

I should mention that Levin also has a short video up on YouTube titled "Getting More for Less in Juvenile Justice":

Regular readers will recall the conservative writer recently published this public policy report (pdf) by the same name. Marc just sent me a hardcopy in the mail, which I appreciate since the document is a tad lengthy to read online.


Anonymous said...

Under this legislative watch soon we will have one law. If you are breathing, and ofcourse not elected or law enforcement, you are guilty. period.

if you look back to history on all great and not so great governmental bodies, you will see that as more and more restrictive laws are passed it marks the complete decline of that civilization. The populous was always in support until laws were created against them. The laws finally touched everyone in some way, and only a redesign of said system could 'fix' the problem.

Rome, Athens, Sparta, Egypt, Persia, Spain, England, Germany, Russia (communist revolt), China (dynasty and communist revolt), et al. remain testaments to what happens eventually if the people ignore governmental under-handedness. We are heading down this same road, only without the fighting in the streets.

Those that doubt this being true are the clueless that will accept anything, and only offer token reply to said changes in law. These are sad days for us and our children.

Anonymous said...


Retired 2004

Graffiti Task Force said...

Another example of overkill is graffiti legislation. Rather than "penalty enhancements" for graffiti "crimes", the law should move in the opposite direction. Most graffiti crimes are committed by unseen vandals. With no eye witness, there can be no proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, no charge, no prosecution, no punishment.

The solution is to decriminalize SOME graffiti acts. That eliminates the need for eye-witness testimony.

A tax-free solution (pdf) does exist. It offers a police investigator a tool when there is no eye-witness. A simple change in the law would allow a peace officer to qualify as an expert to offer testimony that identifies who is responsible for the graffiti.

Certainty of a punishment is its own deterrent. Empty threats accomplish nothing, except to burden the land owner with an expensive mess to clean.

Grandmom said...

During the last session, I read many bill captions filed by certain legislators. For some, the majority of their bills state: "Creating a new offense" The bills also "Create a new penalty". Hundreds of these bills were filed. No wonder our prisons are full. Whatever happened to the refusal to vote for bills with any cost involved?

PirateFriedman said...

I like the story about the retiree with the orchids. This shows how dangerous environmentalism can be. I would gladly see all the endangered species wiped out for this man's freedom.

This shows the dark side of the environmental movement.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Grandmom, go back and look: The "Fiscal Notes" for all those new crimes and penalty hikes were $0. For purposes of budgeting, it's supposedly all free.

Anonymous said...

I am glad I read your $0 comment Grits, i was just about to say something as you said it. So many laws get passed with $0 impact claimed that it boggles the mind.

Do we go to the "gawds of legal budgeting" and sacrifice a Llama or something to get these passed for no money?

This qualifies as the 800 lbs gorilla in the room, and still noone see it.