Dennis Hastert, structuring, and government overrreach

The arrest of Dennis Hastert late last month is an example of how government has over-criminalized our lives and is an example of how government’s reach needs to be sharply curtailed. We need to reform our criminal justice system, especially as it relates to the War on Drugs.

Hastert was arrested under “structuring” laws, which make it a “crime” to avoid federal reporting requirements by making withdrawals or deposits in amounts less than $10,000. This is unjust. As long as you are not doing anything illegal with your money, you should be allowed to withdraw or deposit in any amount you want as often as you want. And what Hastert was doing with that money was not illegal.

I understand the reasoning behind structuring laws, to catch drug kingpins and prevent money laundering, along with other things. But as Radley Balko has pointed out, structuring laws catch too many innocent people and became oppressive a long time ago. It is an overreach of the War on Drugs that has harmed many people who have nothing to do with the drug trade. Once again, we are punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty.

When the Hastert story broke, I imagined the following scenario: A rich man sets up four accounts of $100,000 in four different banks. Each business day, he makes two transfers of $9,500. On the odd days, he transfers the money from account A to account B, and from account C to account D. The second day, he transfers money from account D to account A and from account B to account C. This is repeated until he catches the attention of the federal government and federal law enforcement arrests him, leading to a lawsuit challenging the law itself.

Because of the interest in combating organized crime, I would be comfortable with a reform where “structuring” is illegal, but only if someone is convicted of doing something illegal with that money. Unless you are convicted of a separate crime, structuring would be completely legal. If you are convicted of a crime, it would be either an additional criminal charge after that conviction or an enhancement to the punishment for the first conviction.

What is interesting about this scandal is that Hastert was a drug warrior. Hopefully, this will serve as a reminder of the overreach of the War on Drugs and why it is in everyone’s best interest to curtail it. Sadly, that will not happen.

Note: Nothing I said above is meant to excuse any sexual misconduct and/or sex crimes Hastert may have committed. I am a strong and enthusiastic supporter of harsh punishments for those who commit sex crimes, especially against children and underage teens.

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