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Murder of Foreign Officials

18 U.S.C § 1116 - Murder or Manslaughter of Foreign Officials

For the purpose of international relations, all foreign officials, internationally protected persons, official guests of the United States, and their families are afforded special protections under federal law.

For this reason, Title 18 U.S. Code 1116 makes it a federal crime to commit or attempt to commit murder or manslaughter against foreign officials, official guests, or internationally protected persons.

Murder or Manslaughter of Foreign Officials – 18 U.S.C § 1116
18 U.S. Code 1116 makes it a crime to commit murder or manslaughter against foreign officials.

Homicide or manslaughter charges could be filed against you if you were responsible for causing the death of another person. You could also face charges of attempting to cause somebody's death.

Both homicide and manslaughter can lead to serious federal charges, where you could face life imprisonment or the death penalty.

18 U.S.C. 1116 says, “(a) Whoever kills or attempts to kill a foreign official, official guest, or internationally protected person shall be punished as provided under sections 1111, 1112, and 1113 of this title.”

Subsection (3) says a “Foreign official” includes a President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Ambassador, Cabinet Member, Chief of State, etc., and anyone who has previously served in such capacity, and members of their family, while in the United States.

Subsection (b) (1) says “Family” consist of a spouse, parent, brother, sister, child, or another person who is living in the home and is related to the foreign official.

Subsection (6) says “Official guests” are citizens of a foreign country present in the United States as official guests of the government pursuant to designation by the Secretary of State.

If you are convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1116, you could face a significant amount of time in prison—and in cases of first-degree murder, you could face the death penalty. Let's review this federal law in greater detail below.

18 U.S.C. 1116 - Explained

Title 18 U.S. Code 1116 is designed to protect foreign officials, official guests, and those designated as internationally protected persons, along with the families of all such individuals, emphasizing maintaining international relationships and upholding diplomatic immunity.

Murder or Manslaughter of Foreign Officials
18 U.S.C. 1116 places protected people under federal jurisdiction and carries severe penalties.

While all individual states have laws that punish acts of murder and manslaughter, 18 U.S.C. 1116 places these protected persons specifically under federal jurisdiction.

Thus, acts or attempted acts of murder or manslaughter against any of these people will be prosecuted as federal crimes just as if they had occurred within the "special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States" outside of state boundaries.

There are separate federal laws for 18 U.S.C. 1111 murder, 18 U.S.C. 1112 manslaughter, and 18 U.S.C. 1113 attempts to commit murder or manslaughter.

Other things to know about this law 

In addition, for those granted the status of "internationally protected person" and their families, if the crime occurs outside the United States,18 U.S.C. 1116 gives the U.S. jurisdiction over it if:

  • The victim is "the victim is a representative, officer, employee, or agent of the United States;"
  • The offender is a U.S. national; or
  • The offender is caught in the U.S.

For purposes of this law

  • "Murder" refers to "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought."
  • "Manslaughter" is "the unlawful killing of a human being without malice," whether voluntarily, in a moment of passion, or involuntarily, while committing an unlawful act or committing a lawful act with extreme carelessness.
  • A "foreign official" is any Head of State or high-ranking member of a foreign government, the head of a recognized international organization, or an official employee of one of these governments or organizations.
  • An "internationally protected person" is any Head of State, political equivalent, or foreign minister currently outside their respective country or any other individual granted special protection under international law.
  • An "official guest" is any foreign national or citizen present in the U.S. with "official guest" status as designated by the Secretary of State.
  • "Family" refers to any spouse, sibling, child, ward, or household member of any of the protected people mentioned above.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

Numerous federal statutes are related to 18 U.S. Code 1116 murder or manslaughter of foreign officials, official guests, or internationally protected persons. Many are defined under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 51 Homicide, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1111 – Murder;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1112 – Manslaughter;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1113 – Attempt to commit murder or manslaughter;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1114 – Protection of employees of the United States;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1115 – Misconduct or neglect of ship officers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1117 – Conspiracy to murder;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1118 – Murder by a federal prisoner;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1119 – Foreign murder of United States nationals;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1120 – Murder by escaped prisoners;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1121 – Killing persons aiding federal investigations;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1122 – Protection against the human immunodeficiency virus;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1512 – Killing to influence the outcome of a court case;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1716 – Murder by mail;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1958 – Murder for hire;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2248 – Murder related to rape, child molestation;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2280 – Murder Aboard a ship;
  • 18 U.S.C. 351 – Murder of elected officials;
  • 18 U.S.C. 111 – Assault on a federal officer;
  • 18 U.S.C. 36 – Drive-by shooting.

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1116?

The penalties for murder or manslaughter of a foreign official can be severe. The maximum penalty depends on the actual offense committed, as follows:

  • If convicted of attempted manslaughter: up to 7 years in prison.
  • If convicted of involuntary manslaughter: up to 8 years in prison.
  • If convicted of voluntary manslaughter: up to 15 years in prison.
  • If convicted of attempted murder: up to 20 years in prison.
  • If convicted of second-degree murder: up to life in prison.
  • If convicted of first-degree murder: life imprisonment or the death penalty.

In addition to the above, for any crime other than murder, you could be fined up to $250,000 in addition to, or in lieu of, the sentences above. Murder carries a mandatory prison sentence.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1116?

While being charged with a violent crime under 18 U.S.C. 1116 is a serious matter, a skilled federal criminal defense attorney can still employ a range of legal defenses to combat the charges. Depending on the facts of the case, these are discussed below.

Defenses for Murder or Manslaughter of Foreign Officials
Contact our federal defense lawyers for assistance.

Perhaps we can make a self-defense argument. This defense asserts that your actions were necessary to protect yourself or others from immediate harm. It requires evidence showing that you reasonably believed that your life or someone else's life was in imminent danger from the victim.

This defense can only work if significant evidence or eyewitness accounts indicate that the victim attacked or threatened you.

Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of intent. As the element of intent is crucial in distinguishing murder from manslaughter, proving that you had no "malice aforethought" or intent to commit a crime can result in lesser charges or, in some cases, even an acquittal.

Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity. In some cases, the defense may argue that you have been incorrectly identified as the perpetrator of the crime. Perhaps we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain.

You can contact us for a case review by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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