The House Judiciary Committee is working on a bipartisan basis on several bills to improve the criminal justice system. These bills will ensure that our federal criminal laws and regulations appropriately punish wrongdoers, are effectively and appropriately enforced, operate with fairness and compassion, protect individual freedom, safeguard civil liberties, work as efficiently as possible, do not impede state efforts, and do not waste taxpayer dollars.
On November 18, 2015, the House Judiciary Committee began a series of markups to begin reforming the US Criminal Justice System.
The Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 reduces certain mandatory minimums for drug offenses, reduces the three-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years, broadens the existing safety valve for low-level drug offenders, and provides judges with greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences while ensuring that serious violent felons do not get out early. The bill also contains sentencing enhancements for Fentanyl trafficking, a highly addictive and deadly drug that is becoming a growing epidemic in the United States.
The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 4002), authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), creates a default mens rea standard that applies when federal law does not provide a state of mind requirement so that only those who actually intend to commit the crime can be criminally liable. It also creates uniform definitions for several terms that are used frequently throughout title 18 of the Criminal Code. This legislation protects honest Americans and small businesses from facing legal repercussions for unintentional violations.
The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015 (H.R. 4003), sponsored by Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), takes an important step in reining in federal regulatory overreach. The bill requires every federal agency to submit a report to Congress listing each rule of that agency that, if violated, may be punishable by criminal penalties, along with information about the rule, so that Congress can make a determination about whether a criminal penalty is appropriate.
The Clean Up the Code Act of 2015 (H.R. 4023), authored by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), eliminates several statutes in the U.S. Code that subject violators to criminal penalties for trivial conduct, such as the unauthorized use of the 4-H emblem, the Swiss Confederation coat of arms, “Smokey the Bear” character or name, and “Woodsy Owl” character, name or slogan, as well as the interstate transportation of dentures.
The Fix the Footnotes Act of 2015 (H.R. 4001), sponsored by Congressman Ken Buck (R-Colo.), fixes the footnotes in the current version of the Criminal Code to address errors made by Congress in drafting the laws. While the fixes may only be technical changes, every word is important when Americans’ liberty is at stake.
Additional Background: The House Judiciary Committee has been working on criminal justice reform for several years. In the 113th Congress, the House Judiciary Committee launched the Over-Criminalization Task Force. The Task Force held over a dozen hearings on issues facing the criminal justice system, such as over-federalization, regulatory crime, criminal penalties, and prison reform, among other topics. In the 114th Congress, solutions identified by the Task Force have started to be implemented. One small – yet very important – step is that the House Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction over criminal matters has been strengthened in the Rules Package adopted earlier this year, which ensures that the Committee has the opportunity to review all new federal criminal laws and ensure that they are appropriately drafted, fit with the overall federal criminal law scheme, are appropriate in force relative to other criminal laws, and are necessary.
The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 1854): This bipartisan, bicameral bill – authored by Congressmen Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) – reauthorizes and updates the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004. It promotes public safety and community health by facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems to ensure those with mental illness receive the treatment and help they need.
The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3406): This bill helps prisoners who have completed their sentences successfully return to society, thereby enhancing public safety. This legislation, authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.), builds on the success of the original Second Chance Act of 2008 and continues to authorize funding for both public and private entities to evaluate and improve reentry programming, including academic and vocational education for offenders in prison, jails and juvenile facilities. This legislation also includes important accountability measures and eliminates programs that have not been used.
The Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act of 2016 (H.R. 759) – authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Representative Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Representative Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.) – reforms the federal prison system, strengthens public safety, enhances prison security, provides inmates the help they need, and protects civil liberties.
The Tiffany Joslyn Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Reauthorization and the Bullying Prevention and Intervention Act (H.R. 68):Authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), this bipartisan bill reauthorizes the Justice Department’s Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program at $25 million from Fiscal Year 2017 through Fiscal Year 2021 and offsets this authorization so that there is no additional cost to taxpayers. The bill strengthens the JABG program to further reduce youth crime and contains a robust accountability and oversight mechanism to ensure taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and appropriately. The bill is named after Tiffany Joslyn, who served as the Deputy Chief Counsel of the Crime Subcommittee and was tragically killed in a car crash earlier this year.
The Due Process Act (H.R. 5283) – introduced by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) – strengthens protections for Americans’ property through civil asset forfeiture reform. The bill raises the standard of proof law enforcement must show before depriving an individual of his or her property, increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures, and strengthens protections for Americans whose property has been seized by law enforcement agencies.
The Rapid DNA Act of 2016 (H.R. 320): This bill, authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), updates current law to allow Rapid DNA analysis machines to be used at local police stations. Rapid DNA technology expedites DNA analysis for suspect identification purposes and allows local law enforcement to accurately identify a suspect in 90 minutes. Unfortunately, current law – which was passed in the mid-90’s before the advent of Rapid DNA technology – is outdated and requires DNA samples to be shipped off to a state lab for analysis and communication with the database known as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). This results in delays of weeks in getting information that can be obtained in less than two hours with Rapid DNA machines. This unnecessary delay has created huge backlogs that impact all crime investigations using forensics, not just forensics used for identification purposes.
Criminal Justice Reform is not a liberal or conservative issue; its an American issue.