Last week, I noted the case of a people-search website that was accused of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act when it hadn't set out to do credit reporting in the first place.

That was a mere regulatory case with the FTC. But regulatory violations often boil over into criminal cases, and these too can take defendants by surprise. The more crimes there are, the harder it is to be sure you're not committing one.

Overcriminalization is not just a problem with federal law. In an op-ed published today , James R. Copland of the Manhattan Institute addresses some egregious points of New York law:

In some cases, a whole book of regulations becomes crimes by default. The state Environmental Conservation Law, for instance, makes any violation of any environmental rule or order punishable by 15 days in jail for each day a violation occurs. So, if you inadvertently breach a regulation for a year, you could face up to 15 years in prison.

Moreover, many of these laws — like the Martin Act, former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s weapon of choice in his efforts to reshape New York’s investment banking and insurance industries — are vague, ambiguous or overly broad .

The BRC's Roger Donway called Spitzer the "Ayatollah General" for his use of the Martin Act to impose his own moral vision on business.


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