House Over-Criminalization Task Force Starts Work

July 31, 2013

pic-jail-fingerprintHouse Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) has established an Over-Criminalization Task Force.  “The number of federal crimes has exploded in recent years, bringing the number to approximately 4,500.  According to a study by the Federalist Society, the number of federal criminal offenses grew by 30 percent between 1980 and 2004. Congress added 452 new federal criminal offenses between just 2000 and 2007 alone, which averages to 56.5 new crimes per year.  This pace is simply unsustainable,” he said.

The proliferation of crimes and severe civil money penalties often for relatively minor violations of federal regulatory requirements can place small businesses in an impossible position when dealing with federal agencies. Because the potential penalties are so severe, businesses often feel they must comply with unreasonable demands.  Moreover, the penalties for paperwork violations or other minor violations can be simply unjust, approaching penalties more appropriate for violent felonies.

The Task force has held two hearings. The first hearing was on June 14 and addressed the issue of the nature and scope of the problem.  For more information on this hearing, click here.  The second hearing was held July 19 and was entitled “Mens Rea: The Need for a Meaningful Intent Requirement in Federal Criminal Law.”  Mens Rea is a Latin term meaning “guilty mind” and is the legal term for the traditional requirement in criminal law that a person had to intend to break the law in order to be found guilty of a crime.  More and more federal criminal statutes are dispensing with this requirement.  For more information on the second hearing, click here.

An example, unfortunately, of over-criminalization would be the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772) reported out of the Judiciary Committee on June 26.  This bill would impose prison sentences of up to ten years on small-business owners who failed to use the E-Verify immigration status verification system and potentially ruinous civil money penalties even for first time violators.

NSBA will be working both to make federal criminal and civil money penalties more comprehensible and more reasonable.