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NACDL News: Bipartisan Effort Establishes Overcriminalization Task Force
By Ivan J. Dominguez
NACDL News columns.
The House Committee on the Judiciary voted unanimously on May 7, 2013, to create the “Overcriminalization Task Force of 2013.” According to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), “The task force will be authorized for six months and will be led by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Bobby Scott.” It will “conduct hearings and investigations and issue a report on overcriminalization in the federal code, as well as possible solutions.” The task force is made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, and will include Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) and Chairman Goodlatte as ex-officio members.
NACDL’s Executive Director Norman L. Reimer was in the hearing room when the committee unanimously adopted the resolution establishing the task force. “This is an important step forward in the movement to combat overcriminalization,” Reimer said. “It is a bipartisan effort to look at America’s infatuation with criminal law as the solution to every problem, and to address the mass imprisonment it causes. And it shows that despite the partisan divide, overcriminalization is one problem that most everyone agrees needs to be fixed. NACDL is hopeful that the establishment of this task force represents the beginning of the very serious work required to turn today’s words into tomorrow’s deeds.”
The Judiciary Committee and Overcriminalization Task Force leaders appeared in agreement on the need to address several important issues, including the erosion of the mens rea (or criminal intent) requirement in federal criminal law, the often unnecessary duplication of state law in the federal code, extreme overincarceration, and the explosion of regulatory offenses that some estimate may now number as high as 300,000. Members also expressed the need to address mandatory minimum sentences. Of course, these are all among the issues on which NACDL has focused in its tireless work on overcriminalization, including in its groundbreaking joint report with the Heritage Foundation, Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law. Indeed, just before the vote creating this task force, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) specifically recognized NACDL’s role, as well as that of others across the political spectrum, in the important work being taken up by the task force.
To learn more about NACDL’s work and leadership in the effort to combat and roll back overcriminalization in America, visit www.nacdl.org/overcrim. A copy of the Without Intent report is available at www.nacdl.org/withoutintent.