The final element of criminal justice reform rests in ensuring that our legal code is both just and enforceable. Too much has been written into criminal law that endeavors to regulate behavior which has no overriding social need to be regulated. Individual actions that result in no physical or financial harm to others or their property, or that result in no permanent negative societal impact, should therefore not be included in our criminal legal codes. At the same time, actions that are deemed harmful should not be nearly as stratified as they currently are, which has resulted in too many possible ways for excusing or diminishing criminal behavior. Finally, for criminal codes to be effective, they must be regularly and evenly enforced. To that end, I believe that a more simplified legal code is necessary for an efficient criminal justice system to function and better protect us as citizens.

To begin with, it is important to recognize the fact that current legal codes are often infused with religious morality issues that are not equally recognized by all individuals and not evenly applied to all citizens. This almost guarantees that our laws create criminals simply by the fact that they exist as laws. Any national or state legal code should reduce the number of criminal acts to include only those acts that are nearly universally accepted as harmful to others, regardless of religious or personal spiritual beliefs. Such acts would be clearly accepted and recognized by all citizens as just laws enacted to reduce instances of harm to others or society as a whole.

Such acts as have been described in previous essays would include the obvious crimes of murder, rape, robbery, assault, destruction of property, destruction of the environment, fraud, kidnapping, counterfeiting, bribery of public officials, immigration violations, and the willful disregard for the safety and well-being of others. We have laws dealing with all of these actions now, and it is hard to argue that the existence of these laws is anything but just. Still, there is room for reform within these laws that can lead to their being strengthened to better protect society and hopefully reduce the frequency of their being ignored.

Take our laws against murder, for example. It is widely accepted that the action of ending the life of another person is a criminal act in all cases except for self-defense or during the execution of legal military operations. But, in an effort to account for the variety of ways in which a person can end another’s life, we have created laws that include varying degrees of murder, each with different penalties ranging from a death sentence to less than a year of incarceration. This system can be manipulated in such a way as to appear to lessen the severity of the act of murder from one of depravity to one of mere carelessness. Society is not better protected from those who would commit murder by having such divisions in the legal code, but rather the criminals are insulated from the seriousness of their actions.

I use murder as an example to demonstrate a point. Murder, or the ending of another’s life, is usually considered to be the worst of all possible crimes. The horror it brings to the victim and the pain it unleashes onto the victims families is among the hardest to imagine. How then, can the taking of another’s life have different degrees of depravity? To me, it is irrelevant whether a murder is planned in advance, occurs during the commission of another crime, or is the result of completely irresponsible and thoughtless behavior. A life is still extinguished, a family is still left behind, a child may grow up without their parent, or a mother may bury her own child. Murder, unlike accidental death (which can occur through acts of natural disaster, medical complications, or unforeseeable chain reactions), can be avoided simply by not killing someone or by not performing acts that could reasonable lead to someone getting killed. As such, murder laws should be reformed to include any act that causes the death of another person through negligence or by purposeful design. The only exceptions for taking another’s life would be instances of actual self-defense, where your own life, or that of another, is in danger of being taken. Period.

Similarly, the legal codes for rape or sexual battery, serious assault, willful destruction of the environment, and kidnapping, among others, should be rewritten to exclude the various levels of severity, as these crimes reduce the security of society in addition to irreparably harming the victims of those crimes. By eliminating the different levels of criminal severity, society would be sending a message that these kinds of acts are intolerable and would receive the harshest punishments. There would be no wiggle room for the convicted criminal to move away from the consequences of their actions, and could result in less instances of these acts occurring.

Some criminal behavior though, can be stratified, depending on the amount of harm that is actually done. Non-violent criminal acts such robbery, destruction of property, fraud, immigration violations, counterfeiting, and bribery are not all equal in nature and so some classification is in order. Still, these crimes are anti-social by nature, and demand to have their place in any criminal code that is established. And, as they are all serious in nature, in that they affect a persons financial livelihood or society’s stability, they should be limited in their classifications to just a very few divisions, based upon either the value of the financial destruction or the amount of societal upheaval that results in their having been committed. These divisions would determine whether an individual would be tried under the national laws, state laws, or in some cases of minor petty theft or property destruction, at the local level.

Absent from a revised legal code would be any restrictions on how individuals treat their own (non-living) property or their own bodies. This would necessarily include laws that prohibit voluntary use of drugs or alcohol (unless their use results in harm to someone other than the user), laws pertaining to consensual sexual activity between adult individuals, suicide laws, and laws that mandate specific personal safety requirements. These kinds of laws are established not so much in an effort to keep the whole of society safe, but rather to regulate behavior that is morally objectionable to certain portions of society or to save society money by reducing instances of physical harm to the individual. Rather than create established legal codes to prohibit these behaviors, society can reduce their instances through honest educational efforts about the possible harm that can occur to individuals engaging in these behaviors. Further, certain legal waivers and restrictions can be created that will release society from incurring the costs that may occur when these behaviors lead to individual harm. Citizens wishing to engage in these acts would have to take full responsibility for any harmful individual effects that may result due to their participation in these activities. Society should also establish stiffer than normal penalties if citizens engaged in possibly self-harming actions commit of an actual crime.

All other acts not established as national or state crimes would necessarily fall into the category of misdemeanor, civil violations, or non-criminal, and could be amended by future generations.

Such a common sense approach to creating laws would have several benefits to society: reduction of confusing criminal code and streamlining existing violations; better enforceability of the crimes that remain; reduced costs for enforcement by redefining what constitutes criminal behavior; and a consensus regarding criminal behavior versus non-criminal behavior.

The actual revision of the legal codes can’t possibly be discussed completely in just one essay, but I think that the basic tenets for reform are here. Common Sense should be the hand that guides the reform movement when making the actual changes. And it is important to remember that we are only discussing criminal legal code in this essay. Other legal codes have to exist to regulate civil behavior of corporations and individuals that provide a basis for non-criminal public conduct in order to ensure that the needs of society are met, but these too should be limited in scope. Reformation of the civil justice system will be the topic of my next essay.