Posted in Civil Rights on December 4, 2014
The answer depends on whether your actions violate the law. So how many laws are there?
We don’t actually know.
In 1982, the Justice Department commissioned a study to determine how many criminal laws actually exist, and the result was complete and total frustration:
In a project that lasted two years, the Department compiled a list of approximately 3,000 criminal offenses. This effort, headed by Ronald Gainer, a Justice Department official, is considered the most exhaustive attempt to count the number of federal criminal laws . . . “[T]his effort came as part of a long and ultimately failed campaign to persuade Congress to revise the criminal code, which by the 1980s was scattered among 50 titles and 23,000 pages of federal law.” Or as Mr. Gainer characterized this fruitless project: “[y]ou will have died and [been] resurrected three times,” and still not have an answer to this question.
See article here.
Our criminal code has become so large and unwieldy that our own Justice Department cannot tell you with any clarity whether your conduct is lawful.
But why is this a problem?
Because in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001) the Supreme Court held that police may arrest any person for violating any law– regardless of how trivial or disproportionate the arrest may be under the circumstances.
No seatbelt? You can be arrested.
Parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror? You can be arrested.
No city tags on your pet? You can be arrested.
Regardless of what you are doing, the criminal code has become so expansive that an average person probably violates some law on multiple occasions throughout the day, and police can use those violations– regardless of what they are– to physically restrain and take you to jail.
Putting these facts together paints a fairly disturbing picture: you cannot possibly know the full range of criminal offenses, but police can arrest you for violating any one of them, and they can use that expansive power selectively to arrest who they want when they want.
When lawmakers create a situation where men of ordinary intelligence cannot conform their conduct to comply with the law, the situation violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
If you have questions about unlawful arrests or violations of due process, contact the personal injury attorneys at Bryan & Terrill.