Hatch: Americans Shouldn’t Be Punished for Accidentally Breaking the Law

In an op-ed, Sen. Orrin Hatch says he can’t support Sen. Mike Lee’s criminal justice reform bill unless it includes a “meaningful” provision addressing the deterioriation of intent requirements.

Argues Hatch in The Washington Times:

Mens rea reform is not some sop to the corporate class, and it does not deserve to be caricatured as such. It is a principled response to a growing problem — the increasing criminalization of conduct that an average person would not know is wrong. Many of our modern criminal laws proscribe conduct that is not inherently bad, such as transporting water hyacinths or walking a dog on a leash longer than six feet. Such laws can easily ensnare individuals from all walks of life who have better things to do than memorize the tens of thousands of prohibitions littered throughout our criminal code.


Unfortunately, the revised criminal justice bill circulated by a group of reform-minded senators still contains no default criminal intent provision. For this reason alone, it remains a bad deal. The bill prioritizes the release of drug traffickers and smugglers over reforms to protect innocent individuals who should not be prosecuted in the first place. Much of the bill is a liberal wish list — the sort of legislation you would expect a Democratic, not a Republican, Congress to produce. That progressive activists support the Senate bill as is and oppose efforts to add meaningful mens rea protections should make clear what a raw deal the bill is for conservatives. Congress, and conservatives, can do better.