The federal government has broadly extended its power to fight common crimes, from murder to unpaid child support. Critics say needless federal prosecutions waste money, jeopardize civil rights, and divert law enforcement from true national threats, says the Associated Press.
Such cases “clog the federal courts and utilize very limited federal resources in matters that are being prosecuted very well by local authorities,” said former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who chaired a 1998 study on federalization of crime sponsored by the American Bar Association. Said law Prof. Gerry Moohr of the University of Houston: “The historical fear against federalizing crime has always been we don’t want a national police power. We’re very near that.”
An Associated Press review shows a sixfold increase in federal spending for criminal justice since 1982. Washington’s share rose from 12% to 18% of justice spending at all levels of government. Some U.S. attorneys’ legal staffs tripled and new yearly caseloads doubled in some federal courts.
Congress has created so many national crimes in so many sections of legal code that no one has an exact count. There are about 3,500, more than 45% have encated since 1970. More than 30 federal agencies have authority to make arrests. The federal justice work force has doubled since 1982 to 194,000. The number of U.S. attorneys and assistants tripled to 5,300. They handled 67,000 new criminal cases in 2002 – more than twice the number 20 years before.