WASHINGTON — The lack of a mens rea provision in the Senate criminal justice reform bill could very well sink the legislation all together.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have attempted to create bipartisan legislation in the past three years that would give judges more discretion in the sentencing of criminals and reduce a number of the penalties for drug crimes.
However, despite agreement on some issues, some Republicans like Arkansas Sen. [crscore]Tom Cotton[/crscore] and Alabama Sen. [crscore]Jeff Sessions[/crscore] spoke out against the bill saying it would only give violent offenders an opportunity to commit crimes again.
Mens rea — a legal term that describes the mental state a person is required to be in while committing a crime for it to be intentional — is included in the House version of the criminal justice reform bill. The legislation is in the Judiciary Committee and the language would make it more difficult to prosecute food, safety, environmental and other business “crimes.”
“If this proposal were to pass, it would provide cover for top-level executives, which is, again, not something that we think is in the interest of the American people,” Deputy U.S. attorney general Sally Yates told National Public Radio.
House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte disagrees saying, “This is a very carefully crafted bill. Its intent is to protect American citizens who did not know or have reason to know that they were violating federal law.”
Senate bill so-sponsor Texas Republican Sen. [crscore]John Cornyn[/crscore] told The Daily Caller he would like to see the same provision in the Senate bill, but there is no consensus to do so, as long as the Democrats object to it.
“We had that discussion with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It’s pretty clear to me it’s going to be in the House bill. So at some point, we’re going to need to deal with it, because I think that’s something we are going to need to embrace, because we’ve seen the over-criminalization of our regulatory system on a strict liability, which used to be reserved for civil not criminal cases,” Cornyn said.
Rhode Island Democratic Sen. [crscore]Sheldon Whitehouse[/crscore] told TheDC, that it was because of senators like himself who hold opposing views on the issue that there is no mens rea provision in the bill.
“The idea that to this good effort, we’re going to attach an effort that gives corporations carte blanche to violate laws that have been set up to protect the public, simply because its hard to prove the state of mind of a corporate defendant, that is asking an awful lot to ride on what is a very good agreement that solves this problem quite well,” Whitehouse said.