House Starts “Overcriminalization” Panel, Largest Law Review Since ’80s


The House of Representatives is setting up a bipartisan task force to pare the federal criminal code, a body of law under attack from both parties for its bloat, reports the Wall Street Journal. The House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, will comprise five Republicans and five Democrats. It marks the most expansive re-examination of federal law since the early 1980s, when the Justice Department attempted to count the offenses in the criminal code as part of an overhaul effort by Congress. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) expects the committee to work through consensus. “We’ve been warned it’s going to be a working task force and it means we’ll have to essentially go through the entire code,” he said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi.), a longtime champion of overhauling the code, will lead the task force. He is expected to reintroduce a bill that would cut the size of the criminal code by a third. “Overcriminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of problems,” he said. Opponents of the expansion of federal criminal law have created a coalition from opposite sides of the aisle, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association. Legal experts estimate there are 4,500 criminal statutes and tens of thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties, including prison. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year.

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