Justice reform bills face crucial hurdles in the House


Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks discuss justice reform proposals.

Justice reform is a rare cross-partisan issue that unites conservatives, libertarians, and progressives, Republicans and Democrats, in agreement. But as with anything that comes before Congress, except perhaps naming post offices, it takes blood, sweat, and tears, sometimes literally, to get these vital policies passed.

Several justice reform bills are in the midst of that process in the House right now, possibly moving to final floor votes this month.

The Sentencing Reform Act was introduced last year and is currently in the House Judiciary Committee awaiting a final vote to move to the floor. This bill, HR3713, would allow local criminal courts to reduce federally mandated minimum sentences for nonviolent charges and also reduces the mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes, especially those committed while in possession of a firearm. Why should people get punished more harshly for exercising but not abusing their Second Amendment rights?

The CBO has calculated that the Sentencing Reform Act alone would save almost $800 million from the federal budget.

The Criminal Code Improvement Act is another bill stuck in the House that needs a vote soon. HR4002 is a little harder to understand but perhaps even more important than others. This bill would create a default standard of mens rea for federal crimes that don’t already have one. That means in order to be convicted of most federal crimes, prosecutors would have to prove that a defendant knew what they were accused of doing was a crime and did it anyway.

Many people get convicted of federal crimes because of their own negligence without any intent to committ a crime or harm anyone. HR4002 would give juries flexibility to look past federal overcriminalization instead of being forced to convict everyone they see.

Congress can’t fix every problem, but rampant overcriminalization and mandatory minimum sentences are problems of their own making, and only they can truly fix them. Contact your representatives and make sure they do so.

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