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May 6, 2013

New bipartisan House Judiciary Committee task force to examine overcriminalization

Overcrim graphicAs reported in this Wall Street Journal article, Congress is creating a new federal criminal justice task force to address the problem of Congress creating too much federal criminal justice.  The article is headlined "Task Force Aims to Lighten Criminal Code: Bipartisan Congressional Initiative Targets Bloated Federal Provisions Cited by Critics for Driving Up Incarceration Rates," and here are excerpts:

Congress plans this week to create a new, bipartisan task force to pare the federal criminal code, a body of law under attack from both parties recently for its bloat.

The panel, which will be known as the House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, will comprise five Republicans and five Democrats.  It marks the most expansive re-examination of federal law since the early 1980s, when the Justice Department attempted to count the offenses in the criminal code as part of an overhaul effort by Congress.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.) said he expected the committee to work through consensus. "We've been warned it's going to be a working task force and it means we'll have to essentially go through the entire code," he said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) a longtime champion of overhauling the code, will lead the task force.  He is expected to reintroduce a bill he has tried to get through several congresses that would cut the size of the criminal code by a third. "Overcriminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of problems," he said.

In a city with deep political divisions, the expansion of federal criminal law has created a coalition of allies from opposite sides of the aisle, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association. Legal experts estimate there are 4,500 criminal statutes and tens of thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties, including prison.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year. In recent years, states have reversed years of steady increases by reducing their prison populations while the number of people held at the federal level has continued to climb.  Federal lawmakers and legal experts attribute part of the continuing increase to the rise in criminal offenses and regulations that carry prison time and the creation of laws that don't require knowledge of wrongdoing.

Democrats have long opposed the growth of parts of the system, blaming mandatory minimums for the increase in the federal prison population, especially the rise in African-American inmates.  For Republicans, the encroachment of federal law into areas that could be handled by the states is a top concern....

Other committee members include Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) and Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.). Recommendations made by the task force will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R., Va.) said in an interview.

As the first sentence of this post suggests, I am not especially optimistic about the prospects for a new federal criminal justice entity doing a robust job of curtailing the size and scope of the federal criminal justice system.  Nevertheless, simply the creation of this new task force, as well as its composition and commitment to work via consensus, suggests that at least a few persons inside the Beltway have come to realize there can and should be bipartisan efforts to shrink the considerable costs of the massive modern federal criminal justice system.

May 6, 2013 at 05:36 PM | Permalink


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I would like to bet 10 cents. Those laws that do not generate enough money from fines and seizures, and from government make work jobs will be proposed for repeal. Those that do will be sustained.

I have a modest proposal. Try to enforce the laws against the non-controversial, age old 8 FBI Index felonies, 4 being violent(willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny over $50, motor vehicle theft, and arson). There are 20 million committed a year, 5 million being violent, and 2 million prosecutions, basically immunizing serious crimes. While the slightest mistake, results in a massive lawyer gotcha against productive entities, driving them to he brink of extinction, even if found innocent. Theinfinity of regulations makes us all federal criminals, speared only by prosecutorial discretion.

The profession is unbearable in its stupidity, its self-dealt immunity, and its abuse of powers. Nothing will get the lawyer out of government policy making power. I have proposed using the infinity of laws criminalizing every human being in the country against the prosecutor if the defendant is innocent. Subject them to investigation, discovery, and refer to other offices for prosecution. All prosecutors must themselves face endless persecution, as these VFL's do to others. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 7, 2013 12:06:21 AM

This will be a classic bait and switch. We start with concern about the laws driving the prison population and end up eliminating a bunch of laws that criminalize harmful acts of corporations and the rich.

Posted by: Paul | May 7, 2013 8:24:59 AM

Paul: This is a good opportunity for you. Please, explain why academic employees are so overwhelmingly left wing, and always support evil and oppose goodness. Then I will give you the real reason.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 7, 2013 1:01:37 PM

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