Congress Is Eroding Criminal Intent: NACDL and Heritage Release Groundbreaking Report and Recommendations on Capitol Hill
Washington, DC (May 5, 2010) – In a joint press conference this morning on Capitol Hill commemorating Law Day 2010, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Crime Subcommittee, respectively, sponsored the release of the groundbreaking, non-partisan report prepared by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Heritage Foundation, Without Intent: How Congress Is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law. In addition, NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer and Former Attorney General Edwin Meese also spoke.
In recent decades, Congress has enacted scores of fundamentally flawed criminal statutes that lack adequate criminal intent protection for innocent actors. NACDL and Heritage undertook an unprecedented study of the federal legislative process which yielded this report. Among its findings, the study determined that during the 109th Congress, of the 446 non-violent, non-drug-related criminal offenses proposed, 57 percent lacked an adequate guilty-mind requirement. The report also reveals that 23 of those inadequately protective offenses were even enacted into law.
“Without Intent is a blueprint for principled reform,” explained NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer, adding that “We are here to urge every elected official to end the madness that has produced over 4,450 federal criminal statutes, and countless tens of thousands more arising from the unchecked power of regulatory authorities.” Indeed, Former Attorney General Edwin Meese pointed out the folly today of the expression “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” given the volume of the federal criminal law.
Heralding the report as a “road map” and an “impressive and non-partisan document,” Chairman Scott was clear about the importance of the criminal intent requirement, explaining that “the mens rea requirement serves to protect society.” Ranking Member Gohmert expressed his unhappiness about learning of people who had been victimized by criminal laws lacking adequate intent requirement, stating that “it hit me to the core of my conscience these are all Kafka novels except they are happening to real people.”
Gohmert was concerned that virtually anybody could unknowingly run afoul of federal law and get arrested. “These are people who never intended to be lawbreakers, good citizens who had their cars run off the road, their bodies slammed to the ground by federal agents, good citizens who never before even had a speeding ticket,” explained Gohmert.
Concluding his presentation of the report, Reimer issued a challenge to Congress -- “Law Day 2010 should mark the beginning of a return to the tradition of fairness and justice in the exercise of Congress’s most awesome power, the power to brand a person a criminal.”
Report and Appendix: http://www.nacdl.org/withoutintent
Fact Sheet: Without Intent Fact Sheet
Executive Summary: Without Intent Executive Summary