Experts Tell Congress: Reduce Criminal Charges by Requiring Proof of Intent

Four lawyers told the House task force on “overcriminalization” that one way to fix the nation’s bloated and convoluted criminal code is to require prosecutors to prove intent, especially when it comes to regulatory violations, reports Legal Times. Congress could accomplish this by passing one overriding law that requires proof of intent for any federal crime in which “mens rea” is not currently a requirement, said former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger.
Examples of obscure criminal laws that representatives cited last Friday: A child who saved a woodpecker from her family's cat was fined $535 under the migratory bird law, and a 66-year-old retiree who went to prison because he didn’t have proper paperwork for orchids. Steven Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, testified that when the average citizen cannot figure out what is illegal, “that is unfairness in its most basic form.” He added, “We have become addicted to the use of criminal law as a blunt instrument to control social and economic behavior.”

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