Washington, DC (Feb. 28, 2014) On February 5, 2014, the House Judiciary Committee adopted a resolution reauthorizing the bipartisan Overcriminalization Task Force for an additional six months, through August 5, 2014. This morning, the reauthorized Task Force held its first hearing of 2014, and the subject was "Criminal Code Reform."
The witnesses who testified at today’s hearing were:
- Mr. Michael Volkov, CEO, The Volkov Law Group LLC
- Professor Julie Rose O'Sullivan, Georgetown Law Center
- Professor Roger A. Fairfax Jr., George Washington University Law School
- Mr. John D. Cline, Law Office of John D. Cline
Opening and closing the discussion, Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Wisc.) suggested that any first effort at criminal code reform be "policy neutral." A number of the witnesses urged the establishment of a commission – one that would include judges, practitioners and the like -- that would advise Congress on comprehensive criminal code reform. In his testimony, criminal defense lawyer John Cline specifically outlined five key areas for reform: "A comprehensive revision of the federal criminal code should focus on five main points: (1) reducing the number of federal crimes; (2) ensuring that the revised code strikes a proper balance between federal and state criminal enforcement; (3) clearly defining the different levels of mens rea; (4) establishing uniform rules of construction; and (5) revising the overly harsh punishment system." Cline went on to explain this vision in detail, and with examples.
At points, the dialogue extended beyond criminal code reform. Several Members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, expressed concern about the problem of excessively lengthy sentences or mandatory minimum sentences. In addition, Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) spoke at some length about the need to investigate patent racial disparities in the criminal justice system, including the exploration of education and diversion programs. There was also discussion of (i) the collateral consequences of conviction, (ii) the trial penalty that has led to an explosion of cases resolved by plea bargains, and (iii) the urgent need for Brady reform.
A link to a webcast of today’s hearing will be available here. Since the Overcriminalization Task Force was first authorized last May, it has held five substantive hearings on Capitol Hill, with NACDL leadership testifying as witnesses at two of those hearings. Links to webcasts of all four of the Task Force’s previous hearings and the written testimony of all of the witnesses are available at www.nacdl.org/overcrimtaskforce. And to learn more about NACDL’s extensive work on the problem of overcriminalization in America, visit www.nacdl.org/overcrim.
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