Washington, DC (January 5, 2015) – Today, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) was joined by several signatories from across this political spectrum in urging the House Republican Conference to adopt a rules change that would afford the House Judiciary Committee the opportunity to exercise its jurisdiction over any bill that proposes or modifies a new or existing criminal law or penalty. The joint letter was submitted by: NACDL; Americans for Tax Reform; Cause of Action; The Constitution Project; James R. Copland, Director, Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute; Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); Heritage Action for America; Mark Holden, General Counsel and Sr. Vice President, Koch Industries, Inc.; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform; and Washington Legal Foundation.
As set forth in today's joint letter:
The House Judiciary Committee has special expertise in drafting criminal offenses and knowledge of federal law enforcement priorities and resources. Furthermore, the Committee, with both a Crime and Constitution Subcommittee, is in a unique position to ensure due process protections and other bedrock civil liberties principles are considered when enacting new federal crimes. Therefore, allowing Judiciary Committee participation in any bills containing criminal offenses or criminal penalties will produce clearer, more specific criminal laws. It should also help protect against overcriminalization and foster a measured, prioritized approach to criminal lawmaking.
NACDL has long advocated for precisely this kind of reform in its efforts to combat overcriminalization and the overfederalization of crime. In a groundbreaking 2010 joint report and recommendations with the Heritage Foundation – Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law – NACDL and Heritage recommended, among several other items, that in order to halt the erosion of the mens rea, or criminal intent, requirement in the federal law, an important procedural safeguard would be to "require adequate judiciary committee oversight of every bill proposing criminal offenses of penalties." And at the final hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary's Overcriminalization Task Force on July 25, 2014, NACDL Past President Steven D. Benjamin reinforced the point in his testimony on behalf of NACDL to the task force:
The positive impact of such a practice was documented in the Without Intent Report, which found a statistically significant positive correlation between the strength of a mens rea provision and Judiciary Committee action on a bill containing such a provision….Hopefully, such oversight would stem the tide of criminalization, result in clearer, more specific and high quality criminal offenses with meaningful criminal intent requirements, and would reduce the number of times criminal law-making authority would be delegated to unelected regulators.
The proposed rule change now pending before the House Republican Conference would be an important step forward signaling a readiness by the new Congress to begin to tackle the important work of rolling back overcriminalization in America.
For more information about NACDL's work in the area of overcriminalization, please visit www.nacdl.org/overcrim.
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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 many thousands of 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.