News Release

Diverse Coalition Urges Congress to Rein in Overcriminalization

Washington, DC (September 29, 2010) – NACDL played a key role in an ideologically diverse coalition of organizations that worked together to bring about yesterday’s hearing on “Reining in Overcriminalization: Assessing the Problems, Proposing Solutions” before the U.S. House of Representatives Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee (Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., Chairman). The coalition of organizations supporting the need for Congressional hearings on overcriminalization includes the American Bar Association (ABA), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Constitution Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

NACDL President Jim E. Lavine and Law Professor Member Ellen Podgor both provided substantial testimony at the hearing, and fielded thoughtful questions from Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Louie Gohmert (R-TX). In addition, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. actively participated in the hearing. Other witnesses included overcriminalization victims Abner Schoenwetter and legendary race car driver Bobby Unser, Brian Walsh of the Heritage Foundation, Notre Dame Law Professor Stephen Smith, and former Director of the DOJ’s Enron Task Force and NACDL member Andrew Weissmann.

In a joint press conference on Capitol Hill just prior to the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Louie Gohmert recommitted themselves and their subcommittee to the important work of addressing overcriminalization. At the press conference and at the hearing, they made repeated reference to the groundbreaking, non-partisan report and recommendations prepared by NACDL and the Heritage Foundation, Without Intent: How Congress Is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law. Indeed, there was significant discussion by the members of Congress in attendance and the panel experts exploring potential legislative fixes based upon the recommendations set forth in the report. While this was the second such hearing on the problem of overcriminalization, it was the first since the report’s release last spring.

Explaining that the “dangerous trend” of overcriminalization must come to an end, Lavine strongly urged adoption of NACDL’s recommendations. He pointed out how due to this problem, in over 25 years as a criminal defense attorney, he has “seen families shattered, careers ruined, businesses fail, thousands of innocent workers become unemployed, and entire communities devastated—all at the taxpayers’ expense.” Professor Podgor, speaking to Congress’s inclination to answer every crisis with still more criminal laws, implored that “The cycle of recriminalizing conduct every time an event occurs needs to stop.”

For a copy of Jim E. Lavine’s complete testimony, click here.

For a copy of Professor Ellen Podgor’s complete testimony, click here.

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.