South Carolina residents are facing increased risk of prosecution for unknowingly breaking a growing list of increasingly archaic and redundant laws. A new report from the Manhattan Institute details the size and scope of South Carolina’s ”overcriminalization problem”—and what to do about it.
South Carolina has many obscure crimes on its books, many of which do not require criminal intent, meaning that individuals can be held criminally responsible for unknowing violations. For example, residents can face legal penalties for telling fortunes without a proper license, playing pinball as a teenager, or violating a myriad of obscure fish and wildlife offenses. It is still a crime in South Carolina for a railroad to frighten horses with its trains.
Such an archaic and overly complex criminal code puts well-intentioned individuals in unnecessary legal jeopardy and stretches scarce law enforcement resources that could be devoted to prevention and prosecution of serious crimes. The problem is only growing: the authors find that South Carolina is adding an average of 60 new crimes to the books each year.
Authors James R. Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, who have chronicled similar problems in North Carolina and Michigan, suggest that South Carolina:
Pass a bill that requires courts to presume a criminal intent requirement for all crimes unless the legislature clearly states otherwise.
Create a bipartisan legislative task force to conduct hearings and establish guidelines for creating new criminal offenses.
Create a commission to consolidate and clarify the current criminal statutes.