House Judiciary Committee Eyes Federal Over-Criminalization, Approves Justice Reforms
The House Judiciary Committee introduced a series of four bills this week “to rein in the explosion of federal criminal law, commonly referred to as over-criminalization.”
In the committee’s press release announcing the legislation addressing over-criminalization, it is noted that the U.S. Code contains nearly 5,000 federal crimes. Studies have shown that approximately 60 new federal crimes are enacted each year, and over the past decade Congress has averaged adding 500 new crimes to the Code.
The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015, creates a default mens rea standard applicable when federal law does not provide a state of mind requirement, so that only those who intend to commit the crime can be criminally liable. The bill, introduced by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), also creates uniform definitions of terms used in Title 18 of the Criminal Code.
The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA), required federal agencies to submit reports to Congress listing each rule of the agency that, if violated, may be punishable by criminal penalties, as well as information about the rule.
The Clean Up the Code Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), eliminates several statutes in the U.S. Code that subject violators to criminal penalties for what Chabot referred to as “trivial criminal penalties,” such as “the unauthorized use of the 4-H emblem or the interstate transportation of dentures.”
The Fix the Footnotes Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), addressed footnotes in the current version of the Criminal Code to address errors made by Congress in drafting the laws.
“Over the past few decades, the federal criminal code has expanded dramatically. The bills introduced by several of our colleagues make commonsense changes to the federal criminal code to ensure our laws fit within the overall federal criminal law scheme, are appropriate in force relative to other criminal laws, require that a person must intend to commit a crime in order to be criminally liable for that crime, and are necessary. We look forward to moving these bills through the Committee soon,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) in a statement announcing the introduction of the four bills.
The day after the introduction of the over-criminalization bills, the committee approved on voice vote the House’s bipartisan Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, which reduces mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, broadens mechanisms for non-violent drug offenders to be sentenced below the mandatory minimum, provides judges greater discretion in determining sentences, contains enhancements for Fentanyl trafficking, and also contains limits on retroactivity to keep violent criminals in jail so they serve their full sentences.
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