From Restatement to Model Penal Code: The Progress and Perils of Criminal Law Reform

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



This chapter details the evolution of the American Law Institute’s (ALI’s) approach to criminal law reform, eventuating in the Model Penal Code (MPC). It begins with the pre-MPC committees and reports. Here, we see how the chaotic state of the criminal law called for reform and how the need for direction transformed the project from Restatement to model code. The chapter then turns to the MPC, discussing how it innovated American criminal law and briefly surveying its substantial impact on law reform. It then sets forth the arguments for updating the MPC, including the recent projects that revised both sentencing and sexual assault. Finally, it evaluates the MPC. If we look at what motivated the first ALI committee on criminal law reform and what MPC Reporter Herbert Wechsler’s key aspirations were, the success of the MPC is mixed. Some key provisions were sparsely adopted, and some were later undermined. And the Code never offered the kind of uniformity that the initial committee sought. But it is a mistake to ask whether any state’s adoption of the code in whole or in part defines it success. Rather, the MPC’s success lies in the fact that it is a theoretical and conceptual lodestar for past and future reformers.


Moral Penal Code, MPC, American Law Institute, ALI, criminal law

Publication Title

The American Law Institute: A Centennial History