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May 12, 2011

"A Paradox in Overcriminalization"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Ekow Yankah in the New Criminal Law Review. Here is the abstract:

Given that one of the central roles of political philosophy and criminal theory is illuminating the borders of justified state punishment, the modern crisis of overcriminalization is a painful defeat.  Generations of legal theory, grounded in liberalism, has done little to stem the tide of criminal law and the explosion of criminal punishment.

One notable island of decriminalization has been the retreat of criminal punishment surrounding marijuana consumption.  With the combination of medical marijuana regimes, reduction of punishment, and halting steps toward full decriminalization, marijuana stands in stark contrast to the highly visible war on drugs that has driven much contemporary overcriminalization.

This piece argues that opponents of overcriminalization have much to learn from the functional decriminalization of marijuana.  Marijuana decriminalization has not been successful because of a swing in public attitudes about marijuana use.  Rather, decriminalization is possible because advocates can marshal agreement across philosophical starting points, bringing both liberals and nonliberals into consensus.  This groundswell demonstrates that legal theorists concerned about containing state power must look beyond liberal theories.  Most importantly, this example reveals that legal theorists interested in turning back the tide of overcriminalization must do more than wait for areas of Rawlsian overlapping consensus; they must reach out to generate consensus with Rawlsian conjecture by viewing law not only from the liberal vantage point but from the nonliberal's perspective as well.

May 12, 2011 at 09:14 AM | Permalink


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Overcriminalization is itself a crime. It is lawyer rent seeking.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 12, 2011 5:17:00 PM

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