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Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

September 13, 1982

To the Congress of the United States:

I am herewith transmitting proposed legislation entitled the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 1982. This Act—plus other proposals now pending in Congress—would strengthen society's defenses against the continuing and pervasive menace of crime.

Crime is clearly one of the most serious problems we face today. Crime—and the fear of crime—affect the lives of most Americans. Government's inability to deal effectively with crime diminishes the public's confidence in our system of government as a whole. Last year alone, one out of every three households in the country fell victim to some form of serious crime. By 1981, according to one survey, nearly eight of ten Americans did not believe that our system of law enforcement discouraged people from committing crimes—a fifty percent increase in just the last fifteen years.

As the threat of crime has become clearer to all Americans, so too has the need for improving our defenses against crime. As my Attorney General said only a few weeks ago:

"In recent years, through actions by the courts and inaction by Congress, an imbalance has arisen in the scales of justice. The criminal justice system has tilted too decidedly in favor of the rights of the criminal and against the rights of society."

It is time to restore the balance—and to make the law work to protect decent, law-abiding citizens.

To protect the rights of law-abiding citizens, the Administration has previously announced its strong support for a comprehensive law enforcement measure, the Violent Crime and Drug Enforcement Improvements Act of 1982, introduced in the Congress as S. 2572 and H.R. 6497. That important legislative initiative addresses many of our most pressing needs: bail reform, victim-witness protection, strengthened drug penalties, protection of federal officials, sentencing reform, expanded criminal forfeiture, donation of surplus federal property to State and local governments for needed correctional facilities, and a series of miscellaneous improvements in federal criminal laws.

The attached legislative proposal that I am now submitting would reform three additional areas of federal law affecting the criminal justice system. First, it would limit the insanity defense so that only those who did not have the mental state which is an element of their crime would escape responsibility for their acts. Second, the proposal would reform the exclusionary rule to prevent the suppression of evidence seized by an officer acting in the reasonable, good faith belief that his actions complied with law. Although the argument for retaining the exclusionary rule in any form is, at best, tenuous, this proposal eliminates application of the rule in those cases in which it most clearly has no deterrent effect. Finally, the bill would reform federal habeas corpus review of State adjudications to ensure greater deference to full and fair State judicial proceedings and to limit the time within which habeas corpus proceedings may be initiated. Habeas corpus reform would conserve scarce federal and State judicial and prosecutorial resources.

This new proposal and the Violent Crime and Drug Enforcement Improvements Act of 1982 represent a legislative program to protect all our citizens. These are not partisan initiatives. They are far too important to the Nation's well-being. In my view, they provide the basis for a renewed effort against the menace of crime. They will help restore the balance between the forces of law and the forces of lawlessness. I join with all Americans in urging the Congress to give both these legislative proposals its immediate attention and to begin the process of reclaiming our communities from criminals.


The White House,

September 13, 1982.

Ronald Reagan, Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Criminal Justice Reform Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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