Washington, DC (July 19, 2013) – Today’s hearing of the newly-created Congressional Task Force on Overcriminalization focused on the specific subject of “Mens Rea: The Need for a Meaningful Intent Requirement in Federal Criminal Law.” NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer was one of two witnesses appearing before the task force today. The other witness was Professor John S. Baker, Jr., Visiting Professor at Georgetown Law School.
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) chairs the newly-formed Task Force and opened today’s hearing by praising, and citing extensively, the findings set forth in the joint report of NACDL and the Heritage Foundation, Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law. Ranking Member of the Task Force Bobby Scott (D-VA) also recognized the absence of adequate mens rea, or criminal intent,requirements in the federal criminal code and regulations. Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee John Conyers (D-MI) echoed Task Force Chairman Sensenbrenner’s appreciation for NACDL’s exhaustive research on this issue. In a written statement, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) pointed to the explosion in the size of the federal criminal law, adding that as a result “no average American citizen could be expected to read and understand, let alone conform his conduct” to that body of criminal law. “A primary cause of this predicament is Congress itself,” he acknowledged.
Confirming the substance of the introductory remarks of the bipartisan leadership of this task force and the House Judiciary Committee as a whole, NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer opened with the observation that the erosion of intent requirement in federal criminal statutes “is one issue on which the most important ingredient for reform is already present – that is, impressive bipartisan consensus.” Urging Congress to adopt a default mens rea statute, requiring willful conduct – specifically, that a person must act with the knowledge that the person’s conduct was unlawful -- as the basis for criminal liability, and to altogether abandon strict liability criminal laws, Norman Reimer said:
“Without a clear intent requirement, the individual will not realize when they are crossing the line. That is not fair. And it’s not effective. If people do not know something is wrong, they will not be deterred from doing it. That’s the whole point of a criminal law in the first place.”
A link to a webcast of the full hearing is available here (it begins at the 19-minute mark, a little after 9:00 a.m.).
In addition, the written testimony of NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer before the House Overcriminalization Task Force is available here. The testimony of the second witness, Professor John S. Baker, Jr., should be available shortly on the Judiciary Committee’s landing page for today’s hearing, which is here.
To learn more about NACDL’s work and leadership in the effort to combat and roll back overcriminalization in America, 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 legal system.