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Reforming Our Broken Criminal Justice System

Dec 7, 2015

On a bipartisan basis, the House Judiciary Committee has been working on several bills to improve our broken criminal justice system. These bills will insure that our federal criminal laws and regulations 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.

The Committee has long prioritized criminal justice reform for several years. In the 113th Congress, the Committee launched the Over-Criminalization Task Force, which held over a dozen hearings. In the 114th Congress, the solutions identified from the Task Force began to be implemented. With this year’s adoption of the Rules Package, the Committee’s jurisdiction over criminal matters has grown, allowing the Committee to review all new federal criminal laws and ensure that they are appropriately drafted.

Legislation Approved To Date

H.R. 3713, The Sentencing Reform Act: 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.   A one-pager on the Sentencing Reform Act can be found here and section-by-section can be found here

H.R. 4002, The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015: 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.

H.R. 4003, The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015, 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.  

H.R. 4023, The Clean Up the Code Act of 2015: 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. 

H.R. 4001, The Fix the Footnotes Act of 2015:  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.

H.R. 1854, The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015: 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. 

H.R. 3406, The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015: 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. 

H.R. 759, The Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act of 2016: 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.

Related Press Releases:

10/17/15: House Judiciary Committee Unveils Bills to Address Federal Over-Criminalization

10/8/15: House Judiciary Committee Unveils Bipartisan Sentencing Reform Legislation

10/8/15: Ranking Member Conyers' Remarks at Press Conference on Bipartisan Sentencing Reform Legislation

6/10/15: House Judiciary Committee Announces Criminal Justice Reform Initiative

8/3/15: Goodlatte & Conyers Statement on the House Judiciary Committee’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative

Bill Background:

One-pager on the key provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.

Section-by-section of the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.

Letters of Support:

Letters of Support for H.R. 3713, The Sentencing Reform Act of 2015:

United States Sentencing Commission

Sentencing Project

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Coalition for Public Safety

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

American Bar Association

Drug Policy Alliance

American Civil Liberties Union

James Felman

Professor Douglas Berman

Cynthia Orr

Multi-org (23) letter of support

Letters of Support for H.R. 4002, The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015:

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Issues: 
114th Congress