Harry Potter & Overcriminalization

I recently finished the fifth book in the Harry Potter series. I thought that it provided a good example of the problem of overcriminalization. What is overcriminalization? Crudely put, it is the idea that there are way too many criminal offenses on the books that shouldn’t be there — not everything that is wrong, annoying, dangerous, or immoral needs to be illegal.

So, what does Harry Potter have to do with overcriminalization?

Spoiler alert: Don’t read any further if you haven’t yet read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the Ministry of Magic (the government for wizards) decides to get heavily involved in Harry’s school (the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), because of the head of the Ministry of Magic is paranoid that Dumbledore (the head of Hogwarts) wants to take over the ministry. Another reason for its heavy involvement is that it insists that Voldemort, the villian of the series, has not come back in bodily form. Harry and Dumbledore insist that Voldemort has come back.

So, what does the Ministry of Magic do to keep an iron fist on Hogwarts? Pass rule after rule of course. For example, one rule disbanded all student organizations and then required permission for the groups to re-form. The ministry passed this rule because Harry and some others formed a secret group to prepare them for fighting Voldemort and his followers. The ministry, in its paranoia, thought that the group would be going after it. Of course, Harry and his friends ignored the rule and continued to meet.

Another rule said teachers could only talk to students about school subjects and nothing else. This rule was created after some of Voldemort’s followers escaped from prison. Naturally, the students would want to talk about this subject with teachers, but this subject would be embarrassing to the Ministry of Magic. If you read the book, you will find out that many other oppressive rules were created; my description really doesn’t capture the experience you get when reading the book.

In the real world, we pass all sorts of laws to stop the things that scare and annoy us. I have often wondered what it would be like if we erased all the criminal laws and started over from scratch. Perhaps we need a law that purges all criminal laws every fifteen years. Perhaps then “the man” wouldn’t be able to criminalize everything under the sun.

I have no idea if J.K. Rowling had overcriminalization on her mind when she wrote book five of the Harry Potter series, but the book certainly does illustrate the government’s power to turn good people into criminals by passing oppressive legislation.

Jeremy J. Richey, Attorney at Law
© Jeremy J. Richey and The East Central Illinois Criminal Law & DUI Weblog, 2008-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.