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Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - "Defining the Problem and Scope of Over-criminalization and Over-federalization"


Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Goodlatte: I am very happy to be here today at the introductory hearing for this Overcriminalization Task Force. Today's hearing will afford members of the Task Force the opportunity to hear from a distinguished panel of outside experts who have been studying this issue very closely for a number of years.

The number of federal crimes has exploded in recent years, bringing the number to approximately 4,500. According to a study by the Federalist Society, the number of federal criminal offenses grew by 30 percent between 1980 and 2004. Congress added 452 new federal criminal offenses between just 2000 and 2007 alone, which averages to 56.5 new crimes per year. This pace is simply unsustainable.

Perhaps more concerning than the sheer number of offenses is how Congress has written many of these new crimes. The recent growth of the federal code in all areas of life has brought with it an ever-increasing labyrinth of federal regulations, many of which also impose criminal penalties without a showing of mens rea, or criminal intent.

A troubling example of this is what happened to three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser. While snowmobiling near his home, an unexpected snowstorm forced Unser and a friend to seek refuge in a barn. While trying to escape the storm, they unwittingly went into a National Forest Wilderness Area. They spent two days and nights in sub-zero weather -- eating snow to slake their thirst -- before being rescued. Following his safe return home, Unser then contacted the Forest Service to help retrieve his snowmobile. For his trouble, he was later convicted of "unlawful operation of a snowmobile within a National Forest Wilderness Area," which carried a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. I am confident Congress never intended to subject someone in Unser's situation to criminal liability. However, stories like this have become all too typical.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and in the coming months, about the scope of over-criminalization and over-federalization, and what steps this Task Force and the Judiciary Committee can take to address the issue. Concern for this issue is bipartisan, and requires bipartisan perspectives. I commend all of my colleagues here today for your work on the Task Force, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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