Conyers Goodlatte Mens Rea Reform Deal in the Works in House Judiciary Committee

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) and ranking member Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) are in the process of cutting a legislative deal that will deliver on a key demand of corporate lobbyists — mens rea reform.

John Goodlatte

Bob Goodlatte

The Corporate Crime Reporter has learned that under the proposed deal, Goodlatte will support moving sentencing reform for incarcerated inmates accused on non-violent crime if Conyers supports changes in mens rea standard for white collar crime.

John Conyers

John Conyers

Conyers is moving ahead with the deal despite opposition from the Justice Department.

The draft mens rea reform language increases the burden of proof for prosecutors pursuing corporate executives.

The draft would would set up a default mens rea requirement for any statute or regulation that did not state a standard, including wire fraud and all of the health, safety and environment regulations.

The change could undermine prosecutions of financial institutions, polluters, and markets of contaminated food and drugs.

Justice Department spokesperson Peter Carr told Corporate Crime Reporter that enacting a default mens rea statute “would create confusion and needless litigation, and significantly weaken, often unintentionally, countless federal statutes.”

“In addition, a default mens rea would weaken important statutes that have long been a part of our criminal justice system and play an important role in protecting the public welfare, including protecting consumers from unsafe food and medicine,” Carr said.  “A default men rea of ‘intentional’ or ‘knowingly’ or ‘willfully’ would also change substantive criminal law by inappropriately limiting criminal liability that is based, and has been based in some cases for hundreds of years, on reckless conduct, gross negligence, and negligence. Finally, the Supreme Court has made clear that there is no need for a default mens rea. As the Court stated in Elonis v. United States, ‘the fact that the statute does not specify any required mental state, however, does not mean that none exists. We have repeatedly held that mere omission from a criminal enactment of any mention of criminal intent should not be read as dispensing with it.'”

For years, mens rea reform has been a key demand of corporate lobbyists.

In September, the Heritage Foundation released a legal memo titled The Pressing Need for Mens Rea Reform by John Malcolm.

“While sentencing reform addresses how long people should serve once convicted, mens rea reform addresses those who never should have been convicted in the first place: people who engaged in conduct without any knowledge of or intent to violate the law and that they could not reasonably have anticipated would violate a criminal law,” Malcolm writes. “Any reform legislation should address and improve the problems with current law pertaining to mens rea standards as well as sentencing and other areas in need of reform.”

And that’s the basis for the deal currently being debated in the House Judiciary Committee.



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