Federal Justice Reform Chances Dim As Goodlatte Insists On “Intent” Change


The U.S. House won't approve a criminal justice reform plan without changes to the way the U.S. criminal code determines criminal intent, despite the fact that the White House opposes the changes, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) told The Atlantic. “A deal that does not address this issue is not going anywhere in the House of Representatives,” Goodlatte said. “It has to be overcome. This is a critical element to doing justice in this country.” His statement points to the possibility that negotiations over bills that would reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences and the prison population will break down.

The Atlantic says the issue “highlights the challenges, and potential pitfalls, of assembling a left-right coalition, and raises the question of how much various interests at play will be willing to compromise. The dispute also threatens to stall sentencing reform, an issue that the president has elevated as a top priority in his second-term.” Goodlatte, along with conservative and libertarian organizations, support changes they say would protect citizens from being unfairly charged with crimes they unknowingly committed. The White House, backed by liberal organizations, believe that altering the burden of proof could make it more difficult to prosecute crime. Critics fear the proposal could let big business off the hook for illicit activities that lawyers could claim a company didn't know were illegal. “To me, at the very core of criminal justice is the requirement that somebody not go to prison if they did not have criminal intent,” Goodlatte says. As the 2016 election draws closer, prospects for passing any major legislation looks dim.

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