A top Justice Department official attacked key provisions of the House version of a revised criminal code yesterday, saying it would seriously undercut the government's ability to fight crime.
Philip B. Heymann, head of the department's Criminal Division, told a House Judiciary subcommittee, headed by Rep. Robert F. Drinan (D-Mass.), that the current draft would take needed tools from prosecutors and fails to include essential new powers contained in a version of the code passed last year by the Senate.
"It would be unwise and unacceptable to trade the present patchwork of federal criminal laws for a systematic and simplified code that made the investigation and prosecution of crime more difficult," Heymann said.
He added after the hearing that he could not support the House bill without major changes.
He said he was particularly concerned that the Drinan subcommittee draft would cut federal jurisdiction over pursuing corruption by state and local officials, require a warrant for the use of taped evidence where one party consents to record another, and contains no fraud-against-the-government statute.
Heymann also proposed adding a provision to increase penalties to corporate offenders in health and safety violations to $1 million.
Department support is considered critical for passage of a bill to revise the criminal provisions of the U.S. Code. Last year's Senate-passed bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), is much more to the department's liking.
One congressional aide who has followed the effort to revise the code noted yesterday that the Senate bill started with a conservative cast and has moved toward the center, while the Drinan bill, the first House effort at comprehensive reform, bears a much more liberal imprint.
Drafters of the bills say a lobbying campaign by an alliance of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Business Roundtable, representing giants of industry, has been especially effective.
The ACLU's concern about protecting individuals' rights has coincided with the business lobby's effort to save corporate leaders from increased criminal liability, John Shattuck, head of the ACLU's Washington office, said he couldn't recall another issue where the two groups' interests have so meshed.
Drinan said yesterday after the hearing that he wasn't bothered by Heymann's negative comments. "He has to play a little hardball with all those law-and-order types over there," he said. "I thought it would be worse.
Drinan noted that Heymann expressed major concern with only about 10 of the hundreds of provisions in the bill. And he said that the subcommittee will agree to the Justice appeal to keep a five-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor offenses, and Heymann's push for $1 million fines.