Washington, DC (Oct. 3, 2017) – Yesterday, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), David Perdue (R-GA), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced important legislation to address the erosion of the criminal intent, or mens rea, requirement in federal criminal law, the Mens Rea Reform Act of 2017. As explained in a news release issued by Sen. Hatch’s office, this bill "would set a default intent standard for all criminal laws and regulations that lack such a standard…. [and] would ensure that courts and creative prosecutors do not take the absence of a criminal intent standard to mean that the government can obtain a conviction without any proof of a guilty mind." Sen. Hatch also delivered a speech about the important of mens rea reform yesterday on the floor of the U.S. Senate, citing support from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the Federal Defenders, and others.
For many years, there has been a drift away from the core requirement that the government prove some sort of culpable criminal state of mind to commit an illegal act before it can take away someone's liberty. And it has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in the number of federal criminal statutes and criminal regulations. There is a real risk that these laws are used to prosecute and imprison individuals who do not in fact have the knowledge, intent, or any culpable mental state with respect to the acts for which they are prosecuted.
"NACDL applauds the introduction of this important legislation," said NACDL President Rick Jones. "Adequate intent requirements are essential to fundamental fairness. Our system is already out of balance in the power and unchecked discretion it affords the prosecution. The time is now to pass this critically important legislation."
As explained in a 2015 speech, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: "Intent requirements are the moral anchor of our criminal law…. It is critical – especially for the little guy who cannot afford cadres of high priced lawyers to analyze every statute and regulation – that we produce meaningful reform that will ensure that every criminal statute has a precisely defined intent requirement."
In its pursuit of a more fair and just criminal justice system, NACDL has long been focused on a bipartisan approach to mens rea reform with the assistance of allies from a diverse coalition, including the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Federalist Society, Right on Crime, Koch Industries, and the American Bar Association. Indeed, at a May 2010 event on Capitol Hill with leaders from both parties speaking, NACDL and the Heritage Foundation released a groundbreaking study documenting the erosion of the intent requirement in federal criminal law, Without Intent, and urging reforms of the type set forth in the legislation introduced today. In addition, in July 2013, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer testified before the House of Representatives’ Task Force on Overcriminalization on the need for a meaningful intent requirement in federal criminal law. NACDL’s written testimony is available here, while a video of that hearing is available here. NACDL has been working steadfastly on these issues in the years since, and will continue to lead the way for mens rea reform on the state level as well.
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Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or email@example.com 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 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.