Excerpt [John Malcolm, Federalist Society Review]:
Proof of mens rea — a guilty mind — has traditionally been required to punish someone for a crime because intentional wrongdoing is more morally culpable than accidental wrongdoing; our justice system has usually been content to evaluate accidents that injure others as civil wrongs, but criminal punishment has been reserved for people who do bad acts on purpose. But that has changed as legislators and regulators have begun to see the criminal justice system, not as a forum for ascertaining moral blameworthiness and meting out punishment accordingly, but as just another tool in the technocratic toolbox for shaping society and preventing social harm. Mens rea reform, if Congress implements it, would constitute an important step toward restoring justice by preventing criminal punishment for actions like Bobby Unser’s leaving his snowmobile on federal land during a snowstorm. Ensuring that there are adequate mens rea standards in our criminal laws is one of the greatest safeguards against overcriminalization—the misuse and overuse of criminal laws and penalties to address every societal problem. While some critics argue that mens rea reform would only benefit wealthy corporations and their executives who flout environmental and other health and safety regulations, the truth is that such corporations and their high-ranking executives are able to hire lawyers to navigate complex regulations and avoid prosecution, while individuals and small businesses lack the time, money, and expertise to avoid accidentally violating obscure rules. Mens rea reform is necessary to ensure that our criminal justice system punishes in accordance with commonly held beliefs about right and wrong, which is important if it is to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of all Americans.