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Policing Possession: The War on Crime and the End of Criminal Law

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 91 Issue: 4 Dated: Summer 2001 Pages: 829-996
Markus Dirk Dubber
Monika Jain
Date Published
168 pages
The articles critiques the "war on crime" model of crime control and analyzes the role of possession offenses in the application of that model.
The article reviews the American criminal justice policies employed since the Johnson Administration, with a particular emphasis on the "War on Crime" social control and crime control model. The author presents the "War on Crime" as a transition from traditional criminal law models to the development of a penal regime. He further explores the idea that the "War on Crime" methodology of crime control places a primary, and in his view undue, focus on the enforcement of victimless crimes. Additionally, it is argued that the success of the "War on Crime" has been achieved through the disposal and incapacitation of societal undesirables through penal and non-custodial correctional controls. Further discussion concerning policing approaches, possession offenses, and the impact and growing role of nuisance offenses is included. Policing rationales for the "War on Crime" including prevention, communitarianism and authoritarianism are reviewed. The criminalization of possession offenses and the enforcement model used to combat these crimes is included in the discussion. The scope, breadth, and variety of possession offenses is presented. The author states that possession offenses are a good fit for a "War on Crime" model due to the flexibility and convenience of use of these offense types in policing. Common possession offenses that are part of the model include drug possession, weapons possession, possession of fraudulent documents, and pornography possession. The article further provides analysis of the judicial system’s approach to possession offenses including a review of Supreme Court jurisprudence in this area. The author identifies Terry v. Ohio as the benchmark case for possession offenses jurisprudence development. Nuisance control as affected through the "War on Crime" and possession offense model, and the use of the Model Penal Code are also presented. In conclusion, the author states the this model of enforcement policies polices too many citizens and he therefore recommends a transition away from this model of social control. 514 notes, 3 tables