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18 U.S. Code § 2331(5) - Domestic Terrorism

In the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States passed the Patriot Act into law. The act amended federal statute 18 U.S. Code 2331 by introducing and outlining what is considered domestic terrorism.

Terrorism is a global problem, and the United States government takes terrorism exceptionally seriously. There are strict definitions of what terrorism means. If your behavior falls within the statute's language, you could face the most severe federal charges that carry severe legal penalties.

Domestic Terrorism - 18 U.S. Code § 2331(5)

18 U.SC 2331(5) says, “the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that (a) involve acts dangerous to life in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state; (b) appear to be intentional to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or to affect the conduct of a government using mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the United States.

Your future and freedom are in jeopardy if you have been accused of terrorism. Not all defense lawyers have experience dealing with these severe charges. Terrorism is a charge that brings some of the most severe punishments of any law in the United States.

Because of the life-altering adverse effects of a domestic terrorism conviction, those accused of the offense must hire expert legal representation as soon as possible. Let's review this federal statute further below.

The Law — What Is Domestic Terrorism?

As noted above, 18 U.S.C. 2331(5) defines activities involving violations of United States federal or state laws that are dangerous to human life.

These violations are considered domestic terrorism if they seem intended to do any of the following:

  • Intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
  • Influence government policy (via intimidation or coercion);
  • Affect the conduct of the government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;

Of course, the word domestic asserts that these violations must occur primarily within United States jurisdiction. The location of the offense is the main difference between domestic and international terrorism as defined by 18 U.S.C. 2331. Violence at international airports is defined under Title 18 U.S. Code 37.

What Is Considered Terrorism?

If the intention is to intimidate the population, the most dangerous activities can qualify as terrorism. Some of the most common actions committed (or attempted) with implications of terrorism include the use or the threatened use of:

  • Aircraft tampering or destruction, including harm to the flight crew;
  • Arson;
  • Assassination, especially of a government official;
  • Attacking a federal facility;
  • Attacking public transit or a transit center;
  • Bombing;
  • Chemical attacks;
  • Explosives;
  • Hostage-taking;
  • Kidnapping, especially of a government or foreign official;
  • Mass murder, including shootings in public places or schools;
  • Murder or manslaughter of foreign officials;
  • Nuclear or biological weapons;
  • Torture;
  • Weapons of mass destruction.

Furthermore, indirect participation can also be grounds for domestic terrorism charges in situations where an individual:

  • Harbors a terrorist;
  • Finances terrorist activity;
  • Provides support or services to terrorist organizations.

A person who has aided and abetted terrorists can face charges as though they had completed the act of terrorism themselves under 18 U.S.C. 2.

Conspiracy to Commit Domestic Terrorism

Using criminal conspiracy statute 18 U.S.C. 2332b (a)(2), federal prosecutors can bring forth domestic terrorism charges even if the crime was never committed, as long as they attempted or conspired to do so.

If the act of terrorism was committed, the defendant might still be charged with conspiracy if there was an agreed-upon plan beforehand.

What Are the Related Statutes?

Terrorism crimes and penalties are defined in 18 U.S. Code Chapter 113B, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 2331 - definitions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332 - criminal penalties;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332a - Using weapons of mass destruction;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332b - terrorism transcending national boundaries;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332d - financial transactions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332e - requests for military assistance;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332f - bombings of places of public use;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332g - missile systems to destroy aircraft;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332h - radiological dispersal devices;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332i - acts of nuclear terrorism;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2333 - civil remedies;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2334 - jurisdiction and venue;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2335 - limitation of actions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2336 - other limitations;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2337 - suits against government officials;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2338 - exclusive federal jurisdiction;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339 - harboring or concealing terrorists;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339A - providing material support to terrorists;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339B - material support to foreign terrorists;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339C - prohibitions for financing terrorism;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339D - military training from foreign terrorists. 

What Are the Penalties?

Because terrorism, by definition, has a negative and troubling effect on the general population, punishments for a domestic terrorism conviction can be severe.

The federal government takes acts and threats of terrorism more seriously than nearly any other crime, and prosecutors are known to push for the maximum sentence whenever possible.

The extent of the potential punishment hinges primarily on whether or not a person was killed during the offense. If a death was involved during the act of terrorism, the accused could face life in prison — or even the death penalty. If no one was killed, the penalties are more varied.

For example, making, possessing, or threatening with a weapon of mass destruction can carry a punishment of 9 years in prison, while using a weapon of mass destruction is punishable by 12 years. Depending on the charge, fines can also rise to $250,000 or more.

What Are the Defenses for Domestic Terrorism?

Individuals charged with terrorism often fight two battles — one in court and one in the eye of the public.

This can feel like an impossible hill to climb, especially for those who are falsely accused. Defendants should always consult and retain experienced federal defense attorneys to ensure their defense is the best fit for the details of their case.

Defenses for Domestic Terrorism

To secure a conviction, federal prosecutors must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because terrorist activity tends to happen behind closed doors, this may be a difficult task.

There are many possible defenses for domestic terrorism. Some defenses are discussed below. Perhaps we can argue that the defendant's identity has been mistaken, particularly in cultural bias cases.

Perhaps we can argue that someone with ulterior motives has accused the defendant. Maybe the defendant did not know about intended terrorism, especially in cases where the defendant has been charged with aiding and abetting.

Perhaps we can argue improper search and seizure by government agents, which could lead to the dismissal of charges. As always, the case's specific details will help attorneys determine which defense has the most potential for a suitable outcome.

Contact Eisner Gorin LLP by phone for a case evaluation or fill out the contact form. We are based in Los Angeles, California, but we provide legal representation throughout the United States on federal criminal issues.

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