New Mexico’s action this past year to outlaw civil asset forfeiture is a promising example of the type of criminal justice reform that our system needs. Though there is much more work to be done to protect individual liberties, an examination of the state’s approach towards criminal intent could further help position New Mexico as a leader in justice reform.
Historically, a crime consisted of both a guilty act (actus reus) and a guilty state of mind (mens rea). The second requirement—the criminal intent—is now often absent from the growing proliferation of criminal statutes and regulations that carry criminal penalties. Laws at the state and federal levels classify thousands of ordinary activities as crimes, from shampooing a customer’s hair without a license to running a private daycare from one’s home. Worse still is that frequently the government is not required to prove criminal intent in order to obtain a conviction.
Legal tradition has long held that ignorance of the law is not a credible defense for criminal activity, but the sheer number of laws that currently exists makes knowing them all impossible. According to Harvey Silverglate, the average American commits three arguable felonies in the course of a given day. Have we have become a nation of accidental criminals? Can New Mexico lead the way for other states to examine their own penal codes and adopt measures that protect the innocent from harsh and undue criminal punishments?
Please join the Charles Koch Institute and the Rio Grande Foundation for a conversation with criminal justice experts who will explore these and other important issues.
Featuring remarks from Bobby Unser, three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500
Paul Gessing, president, Rio Grande Foundation
Norman Reimer, executive director, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer, The Buckeye Institute
Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow, Charles Koch Institute