Destruction of an Energy Facility - 18 U.S. Code § 1366
Most federal crimes deal with behaviors that affect interstate commerce, such as crossing state lines or occurring on government property. But when it comes to major infrastructures, like energy facilities, federal law takes precedence, whether government-owned or privately owned.
That's why it is a serious federal offense in the United States to willfully and maliciously destroy or damage an energy facility. This law is found in Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 1366. If you're convicted of this crime, depending on the damage done, you could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
The crime of destroying an energy facility is defined as intentionally and willfully causing damage or attempting to conspire to damage it. In other words, it means when someone intentionally damages or attempts to conspire to damage an energy facility, meaning it does not happen by accident.
18 U.S.C. 1366 says, “(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully damages, or attempts, or conspires to damage the property of an energy facility in an amount that in fact would exceed $100,000, or damage the property of an energy facility in any amount and causes or attempts or conspires to cause a significant interruption or impairment of a function of an energy facility, shall be punishable by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both.”
Subsection (c) says that the term “energy facility” means a facility involved in producing and storing electricity, fuel, or other energy sources. This includes functioning facilities and those still under construction.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for gathering evidence of this offense. They enforce the laws involving the willful destruction of government property (link). Let's review this federal law in greater detail below.
What the Law Says
18 U.S.C. 1366 states that anyone who "knowingly and willfully damages or attempts or conspires to damage the property of an energy facility" is guilty of a federal crime.
Under this law, an "energy facility" is defined as "a facility that is involved in the production, storage, transmission, or distribution of electricity, fuel, or another form or source of energy, or research, development, or demonstration facilities relating to it." Under this definition, an "energy facility" could be any of the following:
- Power plants;
- Oil refineries;
- Natural gas storage facilities;
- Electrical networks and equipment;
- Oil/gas pipelines;
- Wind farms;
- Solar farms;
- Biomass fuel facilities;
Other things to know about this law:
- All energy facilities are federally protected, even if they are under construction and non-functional. In other words, it's as much of a crime to do damage at a construction site for a facility being built or one that's fallen out of use than for a facility currently used to produce, transport, or store energy.
- This law treats any attempt to do damage the same as actually doing it, whether or not the attempt is successful. In other words, if you try to damage an energy facility but are caught before you can carry it through, you're subject to the same penalty as if you did it. The same goes for conspiring with others to damage a facility—you can still be charged with a federal crime even if the facility ultimately was not damaged.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: In protest of United States policies on fossil fuel use, David and his friends damage an oil pipeline, disrupting fuel flow. David and his friends can be charged with destroying an energy facility because a pipeline is involved in fuel distribution.
EXAMPLE 2: After losing his job at a power plant, Joseph attempts to retaliate by planting explosives along the facility's electrical network. The explosives are discovered and removed before they can detonate. Although he is unsuccessful in his attempt, Joseph can be charged with destroying an energy facility under 18 U.S.C. 1366.
What Are the Legal Penalties?
The penalties for causing damage or destruction at an energy facility, or attempting to do so, can be quite severe, depending on the circumstances and the extent of damage done. In the case of attempted destruction, the potential damage is done.
- If the damage, or potential damage, is valued at greater than $5000 but less than $100,000: you could face up to 5 years in prison;
- If the damage, or potential damage, is valued at greater than $100,000: you could face up to 20 years in prison;
- If your efforts result in a "significant interruption or impairment of a function" of the energy facility: you could face up to 20 years in prison regardless of the cost of the damage.
- If your efforts result in someone's death: the maximum sentence jumps to life in prison.
In all of these cases, you could also face a fine of up to $250,000.
What Are the Related Offenses?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 65 has a list of the related federal laws covering malicious mischief that includes the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 1361 government property or contracts imposes penalties for willfully injuring or committing depredation against U.S. property;
- 18 U.S.C. 1362 communication lines, stations, or systems address willfully damaging communication systems;
- 18 U.S.C. 1363 building or property covers willfully and maliciously destroying structures, conveyances, or property that is within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States;
- 18 U.S.C. 1364 interference with foreign commerce by violence law makes it a crime to injure or destroy by fire or explosives any articles or places in foreign commerce with the intent to prevent or obstruct products from being exported to foreign countries;
- 18 U.S.C. 1365 covers tampering with consumer products that affect interstate or foreign commerce or tampering with product labels with reckless disregard for the risk of injury to others;
- 18 U.S.C. 1367 covers interference with the operation of a satellite and carries a sentence of up to ten years in federal prison;
- 18 U.S.C. 1368 covers willfully and maliciously causing harm to police animals or attempting to cause them harm;
- 18 U.S.C. 1369 covers the willful destruction of veterans' memorials and carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison upon conviction.
What Are the Common Defenses?
If you're charged with a federal crime under U.S.C. 1366, a skilled federal criminal attorney may be able to utilize one of several defenses to fight the charges. These are discussed below.
Maybe we can argue that you did not willfully or intentionally cause damage. For prosecutors to procure a conviction, they must show that your actions were willful. If your attorney can show evidence that the damage you caused was accidental, you may be able to get the charges dropped or receive an acquittal.
Perhaps we can argue that you were framed. Suppose someone else was responsible for destroying an energy facility and planted evidence to pin it on you. In that case, a good lawyer can help uncover evidence of such a frame-up and use it to your advantage.
Perhaps we can argue that you were not a conspirator in the damage. Suppose the charges stem from an alleged conspiracy to cause harm, and you were wrongfully associated with the conspirators because you happened to be present or nearby.
In that case, your attorney may be able to show that you did not play a role in the attempt or that you never took steps to fulfill the plan that was mentioned.
To review the case details with our federal criminal defense lawyers, contact us by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.