Congressional Mens Rea Proposals Could Allow White-Collar Criminals to Escape Prosecution

 Gavel in courtroom

A gavel sits on a desk inside a courtroom. Source: AP/Brennan Linsley

Washington, D.C. —(ENEWSPF)–March 14, 2016.  According to the Center for American Progress, proposals for default mens rea standards in the bills currently making their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate 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.

The issue brief released today offers background on H.R. 4002, the Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015, and companion bill S. 2298, the Mens Rea Reform Act. Experts then outline three ways in which this new legal standard could make it easier for corporate criminals to escape prosecution:

  • By allowing white-collar criminals to claim ignorance of the law and win
  • By weakening enforcement of critical environmental, health, and safety statutes
  • By creating years of costly litigation and legal uncertainty

“If the default mens rea provisions under discussion in the House of Representatives and the Senate become law, they could make it harder for prosecutors to bring white-collar corporate criminals to justice,” state authors Greg Dotson and Alison Cassady write in the brief. “Language with such potentially significant consequences for human health, the environment, and public safety has no place in a meaningful criminal justice reform effort.”

As discussed in the issue brief, the Criminal Code Improvement Act and the Mens Rea Reform Act would impose a default mens rea standard that could make it more difficult for federal prosecutors to win cases against corporate criminals. These bills could tip the scales of justice toward alleged corporate criminals.

Read the issue brief here.