Overcriminalizing the North Star State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Minnesota

In Minnesota, residents face an array of criminal laws covering ordinary business and personal conduct, often placing individuals in legal jeopardy for unknowingly violating seemingly innocuous rules. Minnesota’s vast criminal law also creates a serious risk that prosecutions will vary markedly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, while threatening to divert scarce resources away from the enforcement of serious violent and property crimes.

Minnesota’s criminal code contains 327 sections—as compared to 114 in the Model Penal Code—and almost 130,000 words. Minnesota has created, on average, 46 crimes annually over the last six years; 83 percent of these fell outside the criminal code. The state’s agriculture, banking, securities, real estate, natural resources, conservation, forestry, game and fish, environmental, education, and health laws all contain crimes, including many catchall provisions that criminalize any violation of rules promulgated by unelected regulatory bodies.

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