Criminal Justice Reform

Some of you may recall that former Senator Jim Webb had been leading a charge to create a blue-ribbon commission to take a look at our criminal justice system – a much needed and long overdue task.

Well, this week there were some hopeful signs in the House…

… ten House Judiciary Committee members joined together to pass a resolution to form the Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013 to examine and make recommendations for paring down the federal criminal code, which has expanded rapidly in recent years. The Task Force will conduct hearings and investigations on over-criminalization issues within the Committee on the Judiciary’s jurisdiction, and has the opportunity to issue reports to the Committee on its findings and provide policy reform recommendations. This is the first review of the expansive federal criminal code since a Department of Justice review in the 1980s.

It’s not quite the same as Jim Webb’s commission, but it has a similar apparent intent.

The Drug Policy Alliance also notes that the task force will address mens rea issues. Supposedly all our criminal law is reuired to demonstrate criminal intent, but in fact in recent years, the mens rea requirement has been dramatically watered down (particularly in drug “conspiracy” cases).

Of course, just because there’s a task force doesn’t mean that we’ll end up with positive results. This is Congress, after all. They could decide that we’re over-criminalizing banking fraud and leave the rest as is.

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