Members of theÂ House Committee on the JudiciaryannouncedÂ four bills Tuesday thatwillÂ attempt to rein in the problemofÂ federal over-criminalization, the next step in thecongressional criminal justice reform initiative.
The over-criminalization reform effort announced Tuesday arrivedas four bills, each addressingÂ a growing problem: thereare so many laws that are so complicated we literally can’tcount them all. Multiple groups have attempted tocountÂ all the federal laws but eventually gave up. Eventhe Department of Justice tried to count and after two years had toinsteadÂ estimate the total at 3,000 criminal offenses,a difficult number not only because it is so high but also becausethe complex legal code makes it difficult to tell if certainsections should count as one or multiple crimes.
“You will have died and resurrected three times,”and still be trying to figure out the answer, retired DOJofficialÂ Ronald GainerÂ told The Wall StreetJournal.
The vast number of complex laws also plagues state governments,but for now theÂ series of bills announced Tuesdayaddresses theÂ federal level. The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015 creates adefault mens rea standard for federal crimes that do not currentlyhave a state of mind standard. This means that to be be guilty ofthe federal law, you have to actually intend to break it.
“Aggressive over-criminalizationin this country over the past three decades has left us with abloated criminal code that makes honestAmericans and small businesses vulnerable to the legalrepercussions of unintentional violations,” CrimeSubcommittee Chairman Republican Jim Sensenbrenner , whowroteÂ the bill, said in astatement.Â “Reform is necessary to improve ourcurrent standards, reduce our overbearing criminal code, and protect the freedoms of hardworkingAmerican citizens.â€
The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015willÂ require all federal agencies to provide a list toCongress of all regulations that come with criminal penalties.
â€œThe federalregulatory burden has expanded exponentially over the pastdecades,â€ saidRepublicanÂ Rep.Â Mimi Walters .â€œPerhaps the worst type of overregulation occurswhen unelected bureaucrats put in place regulations that, ifviolated, carry criminalpenalties.”
The other two bills are less significant.TheÂ Clean Up The Code Act of 2015 eliminatescriminal penalties for several small offenses and the Fix TheFootnotes Act of 2015 tidies up errors in footnotes from previouslypassed laws.
â€œOver the past few decades, the federal criminal code hasexpanded dramatically,” Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte saidin a statement. “The bills introduced by several of ourcolleagues make commonsense changes to the federal criminal code to ensureour laws fit within the overall federalcriminal law scheme, are appropriate inforce relative to other criminal laws,require that a person must intend to commit a crime in order to becriminally liable for that crime, and arenecessary.â€
The same criminal justice reform initiativegaveÂ birth to the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Actof 2015, a bill that reduces several mandatory minimums, mostly forlow-level drug offenders, while increasing mandatory minimums for afew other crimes, such as domestic violence and aiding terrorists.
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