18 U.S. Code § 842 - Federal Explosives Charges
Explosive materials in the wrong hands pose a significant risk to the general population, which is why the federal code created an extensive list of statutes to regulate the matter.
Entitled “Unlawful Acts,” Title 18, Section 842 of the U.S. Code defines the laws surrounding explosive materials.
This federal statute deals with the issue of the importation, manufacture, distribution, and storage of explosive materials, which are strictly controlled activities by the government.
Federal criminal charges are more severe than state-level crimes because the federal government has almost unlimited investigative resources for prosecuting perpetrators and because penalties for a conviction are harsher.
18 U.S. Code 842 says, “It's unlawful for anyone to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in explosive materials without a license, or to knowingly withhold information or make false or fictitious oral or written statements, or exhibit any false identification intended to deceive to obtain a license, permit, or exemption.”
The statute also says that other than a licensee, it's illegal to knowingly transport, ship, cause to be transported, or receive or distribute any explosive materials to anyone other than a licensee.
Further, subsection (d) says, It's unlawful for anyone to knowingly distribute explosive materials to anyone under twenty-one years of age; who has been convicted of a crime punishable by over one year in jail; under indictment for a crime, a fugitive from justice; unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance; who has been committed to a mental institution; or an alien.
Defining Unlawful Acts
18 U.S. Code 842 introduces a strict set of stipulations required to engage in the handling of explosives. The statute states that it is unlawful for an individual to do any of the following without a license:
- Import, manufacture, or deal explosive materials;
- Make false statements or withhold information to obtain explosive materials or a license;
- Transport explosive materials.
Anybody — including those with licenses or permits — is forbidden from:
- Distributing explosives to a person who:
- Is non-licensed or non-permitted;
- The distributor has reason to believe he intends to transport the; materials to a prohibited location;
- Is under 21 years old;
- Is under indictment;
- Has a criminal record;
- Is facing an arrest warrant;
- Uses or is addicted to a controlled substance;
- Is mentally defective;
- Is an illegal alien;
- Has been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces;
- Has renounced their United States citizenship;
- Is located somewhere in which such a transfer is illegal;
- Manufacturing, importing, purchasing, distributing, or receiving explosives without keeping a record;
- Receiving, possessing, or disposing of stolen explosive materials;
- Storing explosives in a way not approved by the Attorney General;
- Failing to report stolen explosives within 24 hours of discovery
- Manufacturing, importing, transporting, or possessing plastic explosives that do not contain a detection agent.
In addition, 842(p)(2) explicitly prohibits:
- Teaching or demonstrating how to use or build an explosive, destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction;
- Distribute any information that could be used to manufacture or use an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction;
- The above can qualify when demonstrated to an audience or a single person.
Understanding 18 U.S.C. 842
Explosive materials are defined by 18 U.S.C. 841 as:
- Blasting agents;
Destructive devices are defined by 18 U.S.C. 921 as:
- Any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas;
- Rockets with propellant charges of more than four ounces;
- Missiles with explosive charges of more than one-quarter ounce;
- Any weapon that can expel a projectile with the help of an explosive or propellant (minus shotguns).
18 U.S.C. 2332a defines weapons of mass destruction as:
- Any of the destructive devices specified above;
- Weapons that are designed to cause death or serious injury through impact;
- Weapons involving biochemical agents or toxins;
- Weapons that release high levels of radiation.
What Are the Related Statutes?
Most of the federal laws defining illegal activity related to the importation, manufacture, distribution, or storage of explosive materials are defined under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 40, including:
- 18 U.S.C. 922 - Unlawful Acts (Firearms);
- 18 U.S.C. 841 – Definitions;
- 18 U.S.C. 843 – Licenses and user permits;
- 18 U.S.C. 844 – Penalties;
- 18 U.S.C. 845 – Exceptions and relief from disabilities
- 18 U.S.C. 846 – Attorney General additional powers;
- 18 U.S.C. 847 – Rules and regulations;
- 18 U.S.C. 848 – Effect on state law;
- 18 U.S.C. 2331(5) - Domestic terrorism;
- California Penal Code 11418 - Weapons of mass destruction law.
What Are the Penalties for Federal Explosives Charges?
Because explosive materials are so dangerous, violations of 18 U.S.C. 842 can lead to severe punishment. Retaining a seasoned legal team is recommended as soon as a defendant becomes aware of the charges.
As specified by 18 U.S.C. 844, the penalties for a conviction under 842 include the following:
- For most explosives violations, fines, and imprisonment of up to 10 years;
- Violations relating to the teaching and demonstration of explosive materials incur fines and up to 20 years of imprisonment;
- Violations involving plastic explosives without detection agents, storing violations, or failing to report stolen materials to incur fines and less than 1-year imprisonment;
- If an explosive is used in a felonious act, the accused party will face up to 20 years in prison in addition to the penalties associated with the felony itself;
- If an explosive is used to affect interstate or foreign commerce, the accused will face between 5-20 years of imprisonment;
- Stealing explosive materials can be punished by up to 10 years in prison;
- An individual distributing explosive materials with the knowledge that they will be used to commit a crime may face a prison sentence in line with whatever felonies were ultimately committed.
What are the Legal Defenses?
The stakes are incredibly high when dealing with federal explosives charges. Significant jail time is nearly always on the table.
An experienced federal criminal defense attorney should be by a defendant's side to navigate the process and build the best possible defense plan.
While basic strategies will vary depending on the details of the case, potential approaches are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that the defendant did not know about the crime being committed. If the federal prosecutor cannot prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt, they can't typically obtain a conviction.
Maybe we can argue that there was an improper search and seizure by the government agents, which could lead to a dismissal of charges.
Perhaps it would be in a defendant's best interest to plead guilty to a lesser violation to avoid lengthy incarceration. This can often be accomplished through negotiations with the federal prosecutor.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California. We offer legal representation throughout the United States on federal criminal issues. Contact us for an initial case evaluation via phone or fill out the contact form.