ND Specialists: Courts should resist ‘overcriminalization’

Richard Garnett, left, and Stephen Smith Richard Garnett, left, and Stephen Smith

University of Notre Dame law professors Stephen Smith and Richard Garnett are encouraged that Supreme Court justices look to endorse arguments they have manufactured in a good friend-of-the-court quick in the Yates v. United States case now becoming heard by the court.

On Wednesday (Nov. five), the court heard arguments on the 2011 felony conviction of John Yates, a fisherman who had thrown back into the Gulf of Mexico 72 red grouper fish that a federal official discovered beneath the 20-inch legal minimal dimension. Utilizing a provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act that tends to make it a crime to tamper with or ruin “any record, document or tangible object” with intent to obstruct a federal investigation, the government convicted Yates of a crime punishable by a prison phrase of to 20 many years.

During the oral argument, Chief Justice John Roberts drew an eruption of laughter from the courtroom by commenting to the government’s lawyer, “You make him (Yates) sound like a mob boss or some thing,” and Justice Antonin Scalia wondered aloud “what variety of mad prosecutor would try out to send this man up for 20 years or risk sending him up for 20 many years?” Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that the case known as into query whether judges must “use the notion or refer to the notion (of prosecutorial discretion) at all anymore.”

In their short, professors Garnett and Smith joined other criminal law scholars in urging the court not to treat the Yates prosecution as an isolated case, arguing that it illustrated the problems produced by “overcriminalization.”

“I am glad the court lastly appears to understand that ‘prosecutorial discretion’ is no panacea,” Smith stated. “Federal prosecutors routinely engage in overcharging — looking for disproportionately extreme punishments which no reasonable individual could believe warranted.

“If proportionality of punishment and the rule of law are to mean something, federal courts need to consider seriously their obligation to guarantee that federal prosecutors are not exceeding the appropriate scope of their authority under criminal statutes.”

The pal-of-the-court brief quick is available right here.

Speak to: Stephen Smith, 574-631-3097, ssmith31@nd.edu Richard Garnett, 574-631-6981, rgarnett@nd.edu

Leave a Reply