Criminal justice reform is primarily a matter for the states, where the vast majority of crimes are prosecuted and prisoners are held. Fortunately, some states are taking the lead in this area and showing that incarceration rates can be reduced, saving money and avoiding the destruction of neighborhoods and families, without increasing crime. This is an excellent example of how federalism and state experimentation can create valuable lessons for the entire country.
At the Federal level, as your Representative, I would push for the following reforms:
Civil asset forfeiture is a disgrace and a complete violation of both the letter and spirit of the 5thand 14thAmendments. The Federal government must cease its practice of civil asset forfeiture and it must also cease its encouragement of this activity by state police, sometimes in direct defiance of state laws, such as with the Federal “adoption” of assets seized under state law. These outrageous violations of individual rights without due process of law must be stopped.
Prosecutorial abuse must stop. The jury trial for criminal offences, as a fundamental right of US citizens, is being extinguished by the power enjoyed by District Attorneys. In excess of 90% of all trials end in plea bargains in a process where DAs have enormous discretion and power. Although this reform needs to be undertaken primarily at the level of the states, the Federal Government can lead the way through requiring greater transparency and disclosure in Federal cases. Like the doctrine of “qualified immunity” with police [link police abuse], the doctrine of “absolute prosecutorial immunity” creates abuses and undercuts accountability.
The criminalization of activities through regulation should be stopped or sharply curtailed. The Federal Government literally does not know how many acts are punishable with criminal censure in Federal regulations, yet citizens are supposed to have knowledge of these. On a related matter, the standard of mens rea should be applied in both laws and regulations so that a citizen cannot be found criminally liable without actual knowledge and intent.
Finally, mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes must be eliminated. Judges must be allowed to exercise their judgment.