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Ralph Nader > Special Features > Letter to Representative John Conyers


November 18, 2015
Representative John Conyers
2426 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515


Dear Representative Conyers:

Last week the Corporate Crime Reporter ran a story about proposed changes in the mens rea standard.

According to Corporate Crime Reporter:

Justice Department spokesperson Peter Carr told Corporate Crime Reporter that enacting a default mens rea statute “would create confusion and needless litigation, and significantly weaken, often unintentionally, countless federal statutes.”

“In addition, a default mens rea would weaken important statutes that have long been a part of our criminal justice system and play an important role in protecting the public welfare, including protecting consumers from unsafe food and medicine,” Carr said.  “A default men rea of ‘intentional’ or ‘knowingly’ or ‘willfully’ would also change substantive criminal law by inappropriately limiting criminal liability that is based, and has been based in some cases for hundreds of years, on reckless conduct, gross negligence, and negligence. Finally, the Supreme Court has made clear that there is no need for a default mens rea. As the Court stated in Elonis v. United States, ‘the fact that the statute does not specify any required mental state, however, does not mean that none exists. We have repeatedly held that mere omission from a criminal enactment of any mention of criminal intent should not be read as dispensing with it.’”

Corporate Crime Reporter – November 13, 2015.

I and other leaders in the consumer movement hope you will oppose any efforts to make it easier for corporations and corporate executives to avoid prosecution for their crimes by changing the mens rea standard.

You have a long history of working with consumer, labor, taxpayer, and environmental organizations to promote legislation designed to curb corporate crime and wrongdoing.  In 1979 and 1980 The Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime, which you chaired, held important hearings on legislation to impose criminal penalties for business entities that fail to disclose information about dangerous products or practices.  In 1979 along with Representative George Miller you introduced H.R. 4973.

I and many others testified on the need for the modest reforms contained in H.R. 4973. The published proceedings from this hearing is over 900 pages long.

You introduced legislation similar to H.R. 4973 when you were Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (H.R. 6544 –  The Dangerous Products Warning Act, on December 17, 2010). And you reintroduced the  Dangerous Products Warning Act (H. R. 4451) on April 10, 2014.

In addition you introduced the Corporate Crime Database Act (H.R. 6545) in 2010 and reintroduced this legitimation as H.R. 4452 in 2014.  This legislation would require the Justice Department to establish a database containing administrative, civil and criminal proceedings against corporations or corporate officials initiated by the federal or state governments. It would also require the Justice Department to prepare an annual report on the number of criminal, administrative and civil actions brought against corporations or corporate officials, as well as the ultimate disposition of those actions, including the size of any fines or other penalties.

As you know, corporate crime has long swept our nation, draining people’s hard-earned savings and severely harming the health and safety of millions of people.  Rampant corporate crime is going to continue unless we start punishing and deterring the violations that devastate so many innocent people.

Many obsolete and weak federal corporate crime laws need to be upgraded and toughened. Congress should advance law and order for “crime in the suites” not just “crime on the streets.”

In 2010 when you introduced Dangerous Products Warning Act and the the Corporate Crime Database Act you issued a news release stating:

[W]e must ensure that consumers are safe from dangerous defects that some corporations would prefer remain hidden….  These bills are designed to keep Americans safe, to increase the amount of information available to consumers, to motivate corporations to inform the public of certain risks, and to hold those corporations accountable when they fail to give clear warning. We must address this issue aggressively, both in this Congress and in the new year.

I hope you will continue to support efforts to hold corporations accountable for corporate crime and wrongdoing.  To do anything less is to send a message that our elected official are willing to punish those without position and power in our society, and to look the other way when when perpetrators in pinstripe suites break or bend the law.

The misnamed The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015 has no place as part of the admirable and much needed criminal justice reforms targeting over-incarceration, and I hope you will affirmatively oppose it. Please review again the statement above from the Justice Department. If the Justice Department – which is not known for its aggressive pursuit of corporate crime, to put the matter charitably – worries that a default mens rea standard “would create confusion and needless litigation, and significantly weaken, often unintentionally, countless federal statutes,” the course of action should be very clear.


Ralph Nader