News Release ~ 11/14/2013

Congressional Task Force on Overcriminalization Holds Fourth Hearing

Washington, DC (November 14, 2013) – The Congressional Task Force on Overcriminalization held its fourth hearing this morning. Composed of five Democrats and five Republicans, the Task Force was created on May 7, 2013, by a unanimous vote of the House Committee on the Judiciary. The Task Force was charged to "conduct hearings and investigations and issue a report on overcriminalization in the federal code, as well as possible solutions."

The official topic of this morning’s hearing was "Regulatory Crime: Solutions." The witnesses at today’s hearing were Mr. John S. Baker, Jr., Ph.D., Visiting Professor at Georgetown Law School and Mr. Lucian E. Dervan, Assistant Professor of Law at Southern Illinois University School of Law. While the title of today’s hearing reflected a focus on regulatory crimes, the witnesses testified about multiple potential solutions that could help ameliorate the problem of overcriminalization throughout the federal system. The two solutions most discussed were a default mens rea, or criminal intent, statute that would address the pervasive erosion of the intent requirement in the federal criminal law, as well as a codification of a statutory rule of construction that would require that vague criminal laws be strictly construed and any ambiguities be construed in favor of the accused. Both reforms are well-documented in a joint study 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. Such measures would have far reaching effects on the whole of the criminal justice system. Members of the Task Force also expressed concern and probed the panelists on how an excessive number of federal offenses, mandatory minimum sentences, and resource imbalances negatively affect the fairness and efficacy of our criminal justice system. They discussed how these combine to put the prosecution in a position of advantage and create a "trial penalty," whereby defendants are encouraged to plea instead of exercising their constitutional right to trial.

With the Task Force’s initial six month authorization set to expire, Task Force Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) noted in his opening remarks that he expects the Judiciary Committee will vote next week to give the Task Force a six month extension.

Links to a webcast of the full hearing and written witness testimony are available here. Links to the video and written testimony from the three previous hearings can be found here.

To learn more about NACDL’s work and leadership in the effort to combat and roll back overcriminalization in America, please visit www.nacdl.org/overcrim.

Please contact Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org for more information.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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