The federal government has created more than 400 new crimes since 2008, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
In a June report to the House Over-Criminalization Task Force, the CRS identified 439 new criminal offenses to the U.S. Code between 2008 and 2013.
A 2008 analysis by the law scholar John S. Baker for the Heritage Foundation found that, between 2000 and 2007, the government added 452 crimes to the books, indicating the government has increased the rate at which it created new crimes.
The 2008 report identified “at least 4,450 federal crimes.” Adding in the CRS report tally, there are now 4,889 federal crimes on the books.
Many of the new crimes simply expanded the criminal code surrounding fraud, racketeering, child pornography, recruitment of child soldiers, and other crimes often pursued by federal prosecutors.
However, there were a few new activities liable to land one in federal prison. For example, it is now a federal crime to conduct “high seas navigation of an unflagged submersible or semi-submersible vessel.” The law was created in response to so-called “narco-subs” used by drug cartels in South America.
Another new section of the code “criminalizes mailing cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.”
According to the report, the federal government also reduced the mens rea requirement for several crimes. Mens rea, or “guilty mind,” is a common law test that requires knowledge of a crime for criminal liability.
Other sections added new criminal codes for slavery, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, and genocide.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a criminal justice reform group, decried the CRS’ latest findings.
“Congress seemingly can’t resist making things illegal. That’s why it’s not enough for legislators to pass much-needed reforms like the Smarter Sentencing Act; they also need to stop actively making the system worse,” FAMM legislative liaison Molly Gill said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.
The expansion of the federal criminal code in general has been a source of concern for law experts.
“The federal government is supposedly a government of limited powers and, therefore, limited jurisdiction,” Heritage report author John S. Baker wrote at in 2008. “Each new crime expands the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement and federal courts.”
Marc Levin, the policy director of the conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime, said the “continued exponential growth in the number and scope of criminal laws poses a significant threat to our liberties.”
“This report shows once again that Congress must act to rein in the excessive growth of criminal laws that are unnecessary or duplicative, and in many cases encroach upon the traditional constitutional role of state and local governments in setting criminal justice policy,” Levin said.