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This Article addresses the ongoing-and, indeed, accelerating process of sporadic, piecemeal, and unnecessary legislation leading to increasing inconsistencies and irrationalities in American criminal law. After a wave of modernization in the I960s and 1970s, the past generation has not witnessed further advances, but rather a serious and growing degradation of most criminal codes. This Article offers several insights regarding criminal code degradation. First, it provides specific and concrete examples of degradation and its harmful effects. Second, drawing on their experiences as participants in the recent reform efforts of Illinois and Kentucky, the authors offer an insider's view of how the political system works (or fails) in the criminal law arena, and of the institutional and personal biases that lead to degradation and impede reform. Third, the authors offer several proposals for overcoming degradation-not just with a one-time-only code revision, but by implementing systemic changes to forestall future degradation. Despite recent trends, it is not only desirable but feasible for states to engage in a far-reaching reevaluation of their practices in enacting criminal legislation. If pursued, such a reevaluation has the potential to achieve substantial and lasting changes that would bring greater fairness, rationality, and effectiveness to criminal codes.


criminal codes

Publication Title

Hastings Law Journal

Publication Citation

56 Hastings L. J. 633 (2005)