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Consequences of Federalizing Criminal Law

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Volume: 4 Issue: 1 Dated: (Spring 1989) Pages: 16-19,39-41
R J Miner
Date Published
7 pages
The ever-increasing federalization of criminal law formerly reserved for State jurisdiction has some undesirable consequences.
The U.S. Constitution refers to only a few crimes which warrant Federal jurisdiction because of their particular threat to the operations of the central government. The constitution relegates the responsibility for 'internal order' to the States. When the U.S. Supreme Court approved Congressional regulation of activities affecting commerce, it sanctioned the most expansive basis for Federal criminal intervention yet invoked. This concept has led to Federal jurisdiction over such crimes as robbery and extortion, loansharking, drug trafficking, and generally any unlawful activity aided by interstate travel. The most obvious consequence of this expansion of Federal criminal law is the overloading of Federal courts with cases lacking in any direct Federal interest or involvement. It also undermines the dual system of government (Federal-State) envisioned by the Nation's founders. The nature of Federal legislation is such that it affects the entire Nation, is cumbersome to change, and often remains on the books long after it loses its original value. Legislative efficiency is thus undermined as Federal legislative jurisdiction expands. Other consequences of the increased federalization of criminal law are the propagation of the illusion that Federal law is more effective in resolving problems than State law and duplication as well as the conflict that may result between Federal and State criminal case processing.


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