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Three Felonies a Day?

Summary:
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations,

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The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets.

This is from the Amazon page on attorney Harvey Silverglate’s book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.

The book is excellent.

The title is horrible. I read through most of the book. True, I skimmed some pages but I looked at every page. Nowhere could I find backup for the book’s title.

Why do I bother making this point? Because at least once a month I see someone on Facebook or elsewhere claim, referencing Silverglate’s book, that the average American commits three felonies a day. It might be true. I doubt that it’s true. I would bet the number is more like three felonies a month. That in itself is horrendous. But that doesn’t justify wildly exaggerating the problem.

Update:

Some of the comments of friends on Facebook suggest that some people who take the out-of-control system as seriously as I do are still hanging on to the “three felonies a day” formulation even if isn’t correct.

Let me give an analogy to show how wrong it is to exaggerate. Let’s say I’m right that it’s more like 3 felonies a month. In other words, it’s 1/30 of the Silverglate number. What if I had a net worth of $1 million and I wrote a book whose title suggested that I have a net worth of $30 million. Can everyone see the problem with that?

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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