Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made front-page news in December when he booked an obscure Indian diplomat—deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade—for underpaying her maid. The foreign policy headache from the arrest ended when Khobragade left the country, but the more serious domestic hazard remains: that of the expanding latitude of U.S. attorneys in battling crime, which too often results in unchecked power that jeopardizes the public good.
The number of offenses classified as crimes in federal statutes has grown enormously from a few dozen at the turn of the twentieth century to several thousand today. Some of the expansion was warranted by new forms of criminality. International mobsters and terrorists, child pornography on the Internet, income-tax evasion, and Medicare fraud didn’t exist in 1790, when the first criminal statute was signed into law. Unfortunately, busybody Congresses have also criminalized acts whose harm is far less clear.
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