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Conyers: The Federal Criminal Code Needs A Major Overhaul

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today, the Over-Criminalization Task Force, a bipartisan working group convened by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to consider reforms to the criminal justice system, held a hearing entitled "Criminal Code Reform." After delivering his opening remarks, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued the following statement:

"Over the past several decades, the number of federal crimes has grown exponentially in size with more than 4,450 of such offenses on the books. Equally troubling, the collection of criminal laws in the United States -- Title 18 of the Criminal Code -- has inadvertently become a tangled web, riddled with internal inconsistencies. At the same time, some crimes are not even found in Title 18 of the Criminal Code, but are scattered in sections ranging from immigration offenses to controlled substances concerns. As a matter of fairness and legal consistency, the status quo is unacceptable and the Judiciary Committee must work to remedy the situation.

"In calling for reform, it is important that the problems arising from the Criminal Code are put in context. Currently, federal prisons in the United States house more than 200,000 people, costing taxpayers billions annually. The majority of these inmates, however, are serving time for drug offenses, many of which are minor and non-violent. Further, 11% of the prison population has been convicted of violating immigration law. Undoubtedly, drug and immigration laws are having a very real - and very detrimental - effect on over-criminalization, over-incarceration, and public finances. No modernization of the Criminal Code should be considered without considering the real world circumstances of America's criminal justice system.

"All too frequently, the Criminal Code contains overlapping provisions for a single offense which, taken in combination with the ever-expanding prosecutorial discretion found in the Criminal Code, allows prosecutors to cherry pick which sections they will charge defendants with. Disturbingly, vague and inconsistent sections often contain different maximum sentences for identical crimes. As the Committee responsible for overseeing the nation's criminal justice system and associated laws, we should not settle for a subpar Criminal Code that permits justice to be misdelivered, let alone on such a massive scale."


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