Legal Expert from Washington, D.C. Visits SIU Law School

Sep 27, 2017

A legal expert visited the SIU School of Law to discuss what he considers a troubling trend.

John Malcolm is the vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government at the Heritage Foundation. He talked to the students Wednesday about the Perils of Over-Criminalization.

He says more people are being convicted of crimes even though they had no intent to violate the law. Malcolm says this often involves criminalizing negligence.
"If I spill some water and you slip and hurt yourself and you injure yourself, you can sue me in court. If it's determined I was negligent by spilling the water you can recover money. Here, we're not talking about the civil system, we're not talking about paying money to somebody to compensate a victim. We're talking about branding somebody a criminal and sending them to jail and imposing all the collateral consequences that go with that."
Malcolm says if courts are going to bring the full force of the law, then we should require somebody to have had knowledge they were doing wrong.

Malcolm says he is part of the reform effort to change this trend. He says Ohio and Michigan have already made changes.

Malcolm says the rise in violence toward police is not an easy fix.

He says there are bad apples in police departments across the country and peaceful protests can help, but violence is counter-productive. He says we need to remember there are thousands of police-civilian encounters every day that do not result in violence.

"I think the police officers, who have very stressful jobs, who wake up every day like soldiers, going out, throwing themselves into harm's way to protect the lives of others, deserve a lot of respect. That does not mean there are not problems. Perhaps, even in some small cases, systemic problems."

Malcolm and General Ed Meese co-authored a report that pointed out violent crime rates are increasing in places like Chicago, St. Louis and Baltimore, but decreasing in places such as New York and Los Angeles.

He says best practices need to be shared between police departments and with political and community leaders.

Malcolm says the lower courts have over-reached in blocking President Trump's travel ban from certain foreign countries.

He says courts have generally shown deference to both Congress and the president when it comes to national security.
"Presidents and the leadership of the House and Senate receive daily classified briefings, federal judges do not. So, they have typically stepped in with a light touch with respect to national security matters. I think in this case, the courts, out of some animus towards Donald Trump have over-reached."
First amendment rights are in the news as President Trump goes after NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Malcolm says the first amendment should be protected for athletes or conservative commentators spurned on some college campuses.
"The quality of decision-making we have in this country ultimately suffers. So, I think the first amendment is deserving of robust protection whether you are Colin Kaepernick or Ben Shapiro."