Attorney General William French Smith yesterday criticized the Supreme Court for making what he called "bad law" and urged support for administration efforts in Congress to toughen statutes he said now protect criminals rather than victims.
"If the United States is to achieve significant reform of the criminal law," Smith said, "Congress cannot continue to defer to the judicial branch."
The attorney general's comments came in an address to a criminal justice reform conference in Arlington sponsored by the conservative Free Congress Foundation and attended by about 200 representatives of government agencies, private crime-fighting groups, police departments and congressional offices.
Smith, joined yesterday by presidential counselor Edwin Meese III, faulted Congress for failing to enact tougher crime laws, opening the door, he said, for the courts to write new law through their interpretation of existing statutes.
Meese and Smith both described a legislative package backed by President Reagan as a partial answer to the need for stronger measures against crime.
Reagan angered many congressional supporters in January when he vetoed a similar package because it would have created a Cabinet-level "drug czar" to oversee the government's drug enforcement efforts. Reagan contended the position would add an unnecessary level of bureaucracy to the war on crime and drugs.
Some members of Congress have predicted the veto will douse any hope of passing a crime bill in the remaining year and a half of the current Reagan administration.
Major provisions of the current package, which Smith and Meese have begun pushing publicly in recent weeks, include a narrowing of the exclusionary rule, which Meese said "has often been used to free clearly guilty criminals, even when police had acted in entirely good faith compliance with the law." The existing law bans illegally obtained evidence from trials.
Smith said figures compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that between 45,000 and 55,000 felony and serious misdemeanor cases were dropped by prosecutors between 1977 and 1978 because of exclusionary rule problems.
The proposed laws also would attempt to establish greater consistency in sentencing and limit the insanity defense..
Meese and Smith advocated similar recommendations for strengthening the nation's crime laws in their contributions to a book published earlier this year by the Free Congress Foundation.
The foundation presented Meese its "Crimefighter of the Year" award at the day-long conference.