Bar Associations

ABA leader calls for streamlining of 'overwhelming' and 'often ineffective' federal criminal law


In Friday testimony before a House Judiciary Committee task force, the chairman of the ABA Criminal Justice Section called for scrutiny and appropriate action to reduce the “explosive growth” of federal criminal law.

Although the federal courts see only a small fraction of the nation’s criminal cases, federal law accounts for an “overwhelming number” of the statutes and regulations that impose criminal penalties, William Shepherd told the Task Force on Over-Criminalization at a hearing on defining the problem of over-criminalization and over-federalization.

Characterizing the current federal criminal law scheme as excessive, costly and counterproductive (since it is difficult or impossible for an individual to comprehend all of the laws that might apply), he called for federal law to be streamlined and federal prosecutions to be curtailed.

“The need for comprehensive review of the state of federal criminal law by the Task Force is clear,” Shepherd said in a transcript of his testimony provided by the American Bar Association. “At every stage of the criminal justice process today—from the events preceding arrest to the challenges facing those re-entering the community after incarceration—serious problems undermine basic tenets of fairness and equity, as well as the public’s expectations for safety. The result is an overburdened, expensive, and often ineffective criminal justice system.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Ex-offenders face tens of thousands of legal restrictions, bias and limits on their rights”

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