The criminal law generally requires proof of criminal intent, called mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”), to prevent people from going to jail for accidents or actions they didn’t know were wrong. As John Malcolm pointed out earlier, mens rea reform should be an essential part of any criminal justice reform that Congress passes this year. But in a baffling turn of events, the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee made no effort to address inadequate mens rea requirements that already exist in federal law, much less those that Congress may pass in the future. It’s encouraging that Senator Orrin Hatch emphasized the need for mens rea reform in his speech this afternoon, reminding us that this is a major priority, and ought to be included in any bill that ends up reducing criminal sentences.
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Jonathan Keim is Counsel at the Judicial Crisis Network.