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As one of our more than 6.9 million FreedomWorks members nationwide, I urge you to contact your congressman today and ask him or her to support the Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015, H.R. 4002, and to co-sponsor it if they have not already done so.
The problem of overcriminalization is a plague on the American legal system. The criminal code is so out of control that the Congressional researched has tried to count the number of laws it contains without success. A similar difficulty exists for regulations, with legal experts have put the number of regulations carrying criminal penalties at anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000.
This has led to the United States housing 25 percent of the world’s prison population, with the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation. This fact is unsurprising, however, considering that almost everyone could be arrested for something. Author and attorney Harvey Silvergate has estimated that the average American commits three felonies a day without even realizing it.
The implications for a free society are obvious. When everyone is a criminal, government has the authority to imprison people arbitrarily. It doesn’t matter that the Constitution protects free speech when the Attorney General need only find a reason to lock up a political dissident.
The Criminal Code Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, attempts to address overcriminalization by reintroducing the common law principle of the guilty mind, or mens rea. This bill would require the government to prove that a criminal defendant knew he was breaking the law, in situations where a reasonable person would not have reason to believe that his actions were illegal.
This would protect law-abiding citizens from accidentally being caught up in felonies they had no idea even existed, and allows the courts to focus on going after real criminals. Providing default mens rea gives juries the flexibility to exercise common sense judgment, and avoid punishing people who do not deserve it.
America became a great nation by allowing its citizens the freedom to speak, worship, or pursue happiness as they please. The constant threat of arrest for crimes no one even knows about undermines that basic principle, and has a chilling effect on free expression. The guilty mind requirement ensures that the justice system functions as intended, to deter and punish criminals who mean to harm their fellow citizens.
I hope you’ll contact your congressman and senators and urge them to support and co-sponsor the Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015, H.R. 4002.
Adam Brandon, CEO, FreedomWorks