Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Criminal Justice Reform Legislation


October 16, 1987


To the Congress of the United States:


I am transmitting to the Congress today a legislative proposal entitled the ``Criminal Justice Reform Act of 1987.''


As you know, I have always believed that government's most fundamental responsibility is the protection of the security of its people. In the area of law enforcement, this critical priority has been reflected in the unprecedented commitment of resources under my Administration to combatting the scourge of drug trafficking and drug abuse, in our recent major advances and ongoing effort against organized crime, and in important initiatives against white collar crime.


Effective enforcement, however, depends on the legislative will to provide the tools needed to do the job. If the Congress had not enacted the RICO provisions of the Organized Crime Control Act in 1970 and the court-ordered wiretap and electronic surveillance provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act in 1968, we would lack essential tools in the war against organized crime. If the Congress had not enacted the bail reform, forfeiture reform, and drug enforcement provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in 1984, law enforcement would be denied basic tools in our fight against drug trafficking.


The legislative proposal that I am transmitting today encompasses three measures -- relating to the exclusionary rule, habeas corpus, and capital punishment -- which are also of critical importance to the suppression of crime and the improved operation of the criminal justice system. These proposals are summarized in some detail in the materials accompanying this message. I do, however, wish to highlight the principal reforms proposed in this legislation:


Exclusionary Rule. Under the provisions of the bill, reliable evidence of guilt would no longer be thrown out and criminals set free because of innocent errors by law enforcement officers in carrying out searches and seizures. Evidence would be admissible if an officer acted in an objectively reasonable belief that his conduct was consistent with the law.


Habeas Corpus. As a result of judicial expansions of the habeas corpus remedy, State prisoners are now free to re-litigate their convictions and sentences endlessly in the lower Federal courts. The bill would curb the abuse of habeas corpus by imposing reasonable limits on its scope and availability.


Capital Punishment. It is scandalous and intolerable that Federal law now provides no enforceable death penalty for terrorists who slaughter defenseless American hostages, for drug traffickers who engage in cold-blooded murder of our law enforcement officers, for prisoners already serving life terms who murder guards or other inmates, or for traitors who jeopardize the security of millions by betraying our most sensitive military secrets to the Nation's enemies. The bill would correct these omissions and others by establishing an enforceable capital sanction for aggravated crimes of murder, espionage, and treason.


The need for reforms in these areas is familiar to all members of Congress. Substantially similar titles relating to the exclusionary rule, habeas corpus, and capital punishment were included in my initial proposal of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in 1983. At the time of the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in 1984, all these proposals were passed as separate bills by large majority votes in the Senate. Similar proposals have been passed or introduced with broad support in the House of Representatives.


There is little question in my mind that these measures would again be approved without difficulty if the membership of both houses of Congress were permitted to vote on them. Yet despite the passage of years, exhaustive hearings and study at the committee level, extensive floor consideration and debate, and vigorous efforts by numerous members of Congress in promoting these important reforms, they have not yet been enacted. This inaction is almost entirely attributable to determined delay and obstruction by those few who oppose the public's justified demand for effective action against crime and seek to deny the full membership of the Congress an opportunity to voice its will concerning these proposals.


We should not and cannot tolerate further delay on these important issues affecting the fundamental right of all Americans to justice in the courts and protection against crime. I accordingly urge prompt consideration and enactment of these legislative proposals.


Ronald Reagan


The White House,


October 16, 1987.