The federal government takes allegations of domestic terrorism seriously, and it prosecutes cases aggressively. Penalties upon conviction can include life in prison and even the death penalty. Just being investigated for domestic terrorism will greatly impact your reputation, and if you are arrested on federal domestic terrorism charges, it means the government feels it has enough evidence to convict you.
However, you have the right to defend yourself, but you will need help from an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who understands how the government investigates and prosecutes alleged federal offenses. You also need a lawyer who has tried cases in federal courts.
What Is Domestic Terrorism?
The federal government defines domestic terrorism as any violent act or act dangerous to human life that is in violation of any state or federal laws. The government has separate classifications for international and domestic terrorism, and domestic terrorism refers to crimes that occur within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. To be prosecuted as domestic terrorism, the crimes must “appear to be intended” to:
- Intimidate or coerce a civilian population
- Influence the government through intimidation or coercion
- Affect the conduct of the government by kidnapping, assassination, or mass destruction
Some examples of domestic terrorism include:
- Bomb building or detonation
- Possession of bomb-making materials
- Biological or chemical attacks or possession of such material
- Harboring a terrorist or providing funds to a terrorist organization
- Spreading radioactive material
As with many federal laws, domestic terrorism is broadly defined, and the government may claim any number of offenses fall under the code's definitions. However, the government must establish the following key elements in order to prosecute:
- The attack targeted civilians.
- The attack had political or religious motivations.
- The attack used violence or the threat to harm.
- The intent was to spread fear.
Additionally, the government can charge you even if you did not follow through on the action. You can face charges for making bomb threats or threatening to kill people, kidnap them, or take them hostage. You can also receive felony charges if you threaten to damage or destroy any structure in the U.S. if it would cause substantial risk of serious injury or death to others.
You could receive a separate charge for conspiracy if you had an accomplice or worked with others to plan the attack. Furthermore, you can be charged with aiding and abetting even if you only agreed with someone about committing the crime and took an overt action. The government considers aiding and abetting as serious and as punishable as if you had committed the act yourself.
The USA Patriot Act
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the government implemented The USA Patriot Act to improve the country's efforts to combat terrorism. The Act provided more avenues for law enforcement to investigate suspected terrorist activity, and it has allowed the government to cast a wide net in obtaining evidence and prosecuting alleged offenses.
The Act also increased the penalties for those convicted of terrorist crimes, and it allowed states to enact their own counter-terrorism agencies as well. New Jersey enacted its own counter-terrorism unit in 2001 under a governor's executive order, and you could receive state charges in addition to federal charges if the offense occurred in the state. A conviction of terrorism in New Jersey could bring a minimum prison sentence of 30 years with no parole.
Federal Domestic Terrorism Penalties
Penalties for federal domestic terrorism will depend on the specific crime and how it's defined. For instance, if someone was killed during the act, the court will have to determine if it was murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter. Therefore, prison sentences can range from three years up to life or even the death penalty.
You can also receive a life sentence if you used a weapon of mass destruction or the death penalty if anyone was killed. It's also possible to receive a life sentence even if you threatened, attempted, or conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Additionally, you can receive prison sentences of 10 or 20 years or more for attempting or conspiring to commit domestic terrorism or providing funds to a terrorist. Penalties for dispersing radiological devices can include prison sentences of 25 to 30 years or life and fines of up to $2,000,000.
Defenses for Federal Domestic Terrorism
Unfortunately, many people in society jump to conclusions when they hear someone is accused of terrorism crimes, and cultural bias can still affect members of a jury, no matter how stringent the selection process or their promises to remain fair and impartial. Furthermore, the government will have already conducted an extensive investigation into your alleged involvement in the crime.
Just because prosecutors may have enough evidence to arrest you and obtain a grand jury indictment, that does not mean you are guilty of the crime. A charge is not a conviction, and you need to develop a solid defense to challenge the evidence and obtain the best outcome possible.
Some possible defense strategies may include mistaken identity or false accusations, or you may have other ways to show you were not involved in the crime. If you can prove someone forced you to commit the act by threatening you or using violence against you or a loved one, you may be able to have the charges dismissed.
At trial, prosecutors will have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt among all 12 jurors. The facts and circumstances of your case will determine your most effective defense options, but you will need a thorough and objective evaluation from an attorney with experience defending against federal charges.
Get the Help You Need
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many clients in New Jersey who are facing charges for federal crimes, including domestic terrorism. He can evaluate your case and examine the evidence against you to help you devise an effective defense. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.