Heritage Shares Seven State Criminal Justice Reform Measures for Congress to Consider

A legal memorandum by John-Michael Seibler of the Heritage Foundation proposes, “Seven State Criminal Justice Reform Measures for Congress to Consider.” It points out: “A number of states—those laboratories of democracy—are leading the current push for genuine reform that does not involve issuing get-out-of-jail-free cards to those deserving of punishment. The federal government would be well-served by looking to the modest, measured pieces of legislation states have crafted to battle overcriminalization and enact effective criminal justice reform.” 

Read the memorandum in its entirety on the Heritage Foundation website here.

The measures are 

  1. Enact Mens Rea Reform to Decriminalize Morally Innocent Mistakes or Accidents
  2. Repeal Outdated, Unnecessary Criminal Laws
  3. Codify the Rule of Lenity (guides judicial interpretation of criminal statutes and instructs a court to follow the reading most favorable to the defendant to ensure that “no one is held accountable for violating a law ‘whose commands are uncertain’ or ‘subjected to punishment that is not clearly prescribed.’” In addition to Texas, Florida has now codified the rule of lenity to ensure uniform application.)
  4. Enact a Mistake of Law Defense (enabling courts to distinguish blameless from blameworthy defendants and punish only the latter fulfills society’s dual interests in law enforcement that is strong and just.)
  5. Modify Sentencing Laws to Prevent Instances of Manifest Injustice
  6. Expand the Use of Earned-Time Credit as Correctional Reform (Earned-time, or good-time, credit programs enable qualified corrections officials to reward individuals with early prison release if they successfully complete productive programs—like G.E.D., college coursework, or professional certifications—that impart skill sets and reduce the risk of recidivism, or to reward compliance with correctional rules, respectively.)
  7. Reduce Obstacles to Lawful Employment to Help Reduce Recidivism