On November 18, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted to advance H.R. 4002, the Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015, as part of its criminal justice reform package. Days later, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced companion bill S. 2298, the Mens Rea Reform Act. Mens rea—Latin for “guilty mind”—is a legal standard used to identify the state of mind that would make a defendant culpable of a crime. In effect, both bills would significantly increase the burden of proof for prosecutors seeking to enforce criminal provisions of food safety, banking, and environmental laws, among others, designed to thwart corporate crime. A recent DoJ witness even warned that it could “cause extreme and very harmful disruptions to essential federal criminal law enforcement operations.” Our analysis shows that this new legal standard could make it easier for corporate criminals to go unpunished by:
Language with such potentially significant consequences for human health, the environment, and public safety has no place in a meaningful criminal justice reform effort.