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August 10, 2019
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How To Be a Federal Criminal!

In an offbeat and more light-hearted episode, Ralph, Steve, and David talk to criminal defense lawyer, Mike Chase, author of “How To Be A Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook For the Aspiring Offender.” Plus, Ralph answers more of your questions.

Mike Chase is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. He is also the legal humorist behind the @CrimeADay Twitter feed, where he offers a daily dose of his extensive research into the curious, intriguing, and often amusing history of America’s expansive criminal laws. Mr. Chase’s work has made him the go-to commentator on the countless weird and esoteric federal criminal laws buried deep in the books. And now he’s written his own book about it, entitled “How To Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook For the Aspiring Offender.” 

“Ultimately, as somebody makes their way through the criminal justice system, the question of whether they’re going to go to trial is pretty much a foregone conclusion. 97% of all people in the federal system – and there are similar numbers at the state – 97% will plead guilty. And of the people who go to trial – the small percentage who go to trial – the majority of them will be convicted, which means that in this country, once you are in the criminal justice system there’s a near 100% chance you will have a criminal conviction.” Mike Chase, author of “How To Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook For the Aspiring Offender.”


  1. Mark Hughes says:

    Great show, love the offbeat format. Would like to hear more of these from time to time.

    “Where did you get your sense of humor other than you going to law school?” I always suspected Ralph had a sense of humor, and indeed sometimes comedy (and sarcasm for that matter) can drive a point home better than rational, fact-rich statements.

    David brings up a great point: prosecutorial discretion. The late Howard Zinn called it ‘selective enforcement’ I believe, and that’s at the core of our legal dumpster fire. How many times have we heard a DA stop pursuing a case for “lack of evidence”, regardless that it’s the DA’s job to go out and get it? It’s like if it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter they won’t touch it. Another point David asked was whether we are a nation of laws or law enforcement. My opinion is we are neither: we are a nation of power. Those who have it (the rich) routinely break laws and the DAs won’t even go after them, yet these same DAs will hotly pursue those who have no power (the poor, and increasingly, what’s left of the middle class) and they suffer inordinately for it. We go after blue-collar and street criminals with a religious zeal, yet white-collar and corporate criminals are not only ignored for the most part, but they also have laws written in their favor. Again back to Zinn’s term ‘selective enforcement’.

    • Mark Hughes says:

      For reference, see Zinn’s “The Conspiracy of Law”


      From the link:

      “5. We make a fetish of “obedience to law” (put more delicately by philosophers as the concept of “obligation”) without making it clear to all citizens of whom this obedience is demanded that government officials have an enormous range of choice in deciding who may and who may not violate the law. One person’s failure to honor the obligation is ignored, another’s is summarily punished.

      “The most flagrant illustration of this is in racial matters. When I speak of selective enforcement of laws on racial equality, I am not speaking of the South but of the national government. Before the Civil War, the legal prohibition against the importation of slaves was ignored by the national executive, but the Fugitive Slave Law was enforced by armed soldiers (as in the rendition of Anthony Burns in Boston). From 1871 on, with a battery of statutes giving the national government the power to prosecute those denying constitutional rights to the black man, every President, liberal and conservative, from Hayes through Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, refused to use that power on behalf of the black man. As one example, under Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, a series of violations of the constitutional rights of blacks in Albany, Georgia, in 1961 through 1962 led to only one federal prosecution–against black and White members of the civil rights movement in Albany who had picketed a local merchant.

      “Unequal law enforcement in racial matters is most obvious, but it is also true in economic questions, where corporations violating the law may be ignored or gently rebuked; note the light sentences given in the General Electric price-fixing case, where millions were taken from the consumer. We find it also where rank and status are involved, as in the military. In 1966, an American Army captain in Saigon, found guilty of fraudulently doing off with imported silk, military planes and Treasury checks, was allowed to retire with a pension; in 1968, various enlisted men who sat in a circle and sang “We Shall Overcome” to protest conditions in an Army stockade in San Francisco were sentenced to years in prison at hard labor, on charges of “mutiny.” Selective enforcement of the law is not a departure from law. It is legal.”

      My .02: the fact that it is legal is precisely the problem.

  2. Eric Bernhoft says:

    This reminds me of a Canadian television series called “This Is the Law” which ran on the CBC in the early 1970s. It featured a panel who watched a vignette dramatizing a law being broken and they had to determine which law it was. Most of the laws were local, but Federal laws could be equally funny.

  3. Don Harris says:

    Almost everybody does “selective enforcement” and seems capable of recognizing it in others while rarely recognizing it in themselves.

    Ralph asks almost every guest whether the MSM or PBS has provided coverage of the person or what they are promoting.

    Yet despite following Ralph’s advice on how to get someone like Ralph to address an issue Ralph has not lived up to his statement on Washington Journal in the fall of 2018 that the idea to get the big money out of our political process that I called in about deserved to be heard and that he would have me on the radio hour to discuss it.

    We have the same goal, just a different approach. If Ralph has changed his mind or misspoke (perhaps meaning to say he would consIder having me on his show) he could explain why this approach should not be considered.

    I may have a counter argument to why he may think the idea would not work that he has not considered or may be able to improve the idea to address a legitimate shortcoming. I can’t provide a counter argument or address a shortcoming until Ralph tells me what they are, which is the main purpose of contacting Ralph- to get his opinion on this idea.

    However, it is reasonable to assume if Ralph does not think the idea could not work that he would present it as an option for citizens to consider as he often criticizes others for not presenting all options.
    I also got through to him on Washington Journal during the 2000 campaign about the precursor to One Demand, the Hundred Dollar Party.

    Both times he asked for more info which I sent and he did not respond.

    As we have established that humor can be a good way to make a point, i hope Ralph shares my sense of humor.

    Perhaps Ralph should rethink the actions he recommends citizens take to get someone like Ralph to address an issue as it doesn’t even seem to work on Ralph.

    And please let me know when Ralph will be on Washington Journal again as it seems to be the only place I can get a response from Ralph.

    Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

  4. Albert Huron says:

    Brilliant@ Mark H.

  5. Henry says:

    Mark, regarding prosecutorial discretion, a book has been written on that: The ChickenShit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, by Jesse Eisinger (S&S, 2017). Obama Attorney General Eric Holder prosecuted exactly zero bank execs post-’08. It’s Obama’s most shameful legacy.

  6. Jonah Gallegos says:

    Great show as usual. I loved the use of the word “injustice system”. Journalist/Activist Shaun King prefers to use the term “legal system”, again as there is no justice in the system. I’d love to hear form Shaun King on your show, he’s making big meaningful changes. As he puts it, “we’re not here to just report the new, we’re here to change the world”. His movement could use your endorsement. Thank you.

  7. Val Escher says:

    No transcript for the Aug 17, “How to be a Federal Criminal,” show?