What are Violent Felonies?
The Comprehensive Crime Control Act was passed in 1984 by Congress to make several major comprehensive developments to federal criminal laws. To achieve its goal in making these improvements, the CCCA increased the penalties for violent crimes and drug offenses, levied compulsory minimum sentences for several criminal offenses, established new bail procedures, as well as created other federal criminal offenses.
The term crime of violence was used for several offenses, especially where the prison sentence enhancement was required. It was in the hands of the judge to determine based on the circumstances whether the offense was indeed a crime of violence or not. The CCCA guidelines helped to assess and establish crimes that were indeed crimes of violence and crimes that weren’t. Based on the crime, the CCCA also established Sentencing Guidelines to specify the term of imprisonment.
What Constitutes a Violent Crime?
A crime of violence is a crime in which a person, also called the offender/perpetrator, uses/threatens to use force upon another person, also known as the victim. This involves:
- Crimes in which the violent act (such as rape or murder) is the objective
- Crimes (such as a robbery) in which violence is used as a form of intimidation or coercion
Until 1996, there was no uniform definition for “crime of law,” also called “violent crime.” The definition for “crime of law” was limited to the criminal offense, and included:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Housebreaking or burglary in the nighttime
- Extortion that is accompanied by threats of violence
- Arson punishable as a felony
- Assault committed with a dangerous weapon
- Assault with the intention to commit an offense
- An attempt or scheme or plan to commit any of the preceding offenses
The term “violent crime” is an offense that uses, attempts to use, or threatens to use physical force against a person or property of another. It also includes any offense that is a felony, and by its nature, involves significant risk to a person or their property, and physical force is used while committing the crime.
Despite providing a broader and uniform definition of “crime of violence,” courts and judges have struggled to measure the scope of the definition and has questioned it:
- Whether to examine the fundamental conduct of the criminal offense, or the legal elements of the offense, or some other combination to determine if a person or persons are guilty of a crime of violence.
- What is the degree of force that is needed for an act to fulfill the “physical force” element of the crime of violence definition?
- Does a crime of violence or violent crime require a certain mental state?
When CCCA defined “violent crime” in 1984, the intention was to define a clear understanding of the depth of the crime to apply mandatory prison sentences. The definition of a crime of violence has been interpreted divergently, and the scope and application are questioned. Indeed, the definition did not provide for uniform judicial interpretation, but every crime is different from the other, and judgment is always based on how the crime is committed. The following are considered to be violent crimes under these definitions.
A homicide can be excusable, justifiable, and criminal. It can be intentional or unintentional. When one person is killed by another without the intention of killing, such as an accident, it is called a homicide, which is excusable and justifiable. But when a person is killed by another with an intention to kill and/or with a predetermined plan, it is termed as murder or criminal homicide. Manslaughter is another type of criminal homicide that is neither excusable or justifiable.
A murder can be first-degree, second-degree, or manslaughter. A person is guilty of first-degree murder if the murder was
- Committed by poison, deceitfully, lying in wait, or any other kind of deliberate, thoughtful, malicious, and calculated killing
- While committing or attempting to commit any escape, burglary, or robbery, arson, murder, kidnapping, sabotage, espionage, treason, aggravated sexual abuse, or child abuse, and such
- As a part of practice or pattern of torture or assault against a child or children
While second-degree murder includes everything else, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a person or persons without malice and includes voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Most murder cases fall under the United States Code, which is, at most times, dealt at the state level. Federal jurisdiction over murder or resulting in death offenses fall under three general categories:
- On the nature of the defendant or the victim
- On the location of the murder or death
- When the defendant/victim or killer is engaged in another federal offense
Federal jurisdiction also exists over deaths caused by:
- Violent acts against maritime navigation
- Placing a destructive device in waters of the U.S.
- Unlawfully transporting explosive, chemical, biological, nuclear, or radioactive materials aboard a vessel
- Destroying a maritime facility or vessel
Other Special Circumstances
Death Due to the Distribution of Controlled Substances
In case of death as a result of the distribution of controlled substances, regardless of the defendant’s intention to kill or even the lack of knowledge that death could result, as well as without any showing of lack of caution or negligence, the defendant is guilty of murder. At least 60 criminal statutes have been enacted in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, where “resulting in death” can be an element of violent crime.
Death Due to Implication of Constitutional Rights
It is a federal offense if two or more persons conspire to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” any person or persons for exercising their constitutional rights, resulting in death. Federal jurisdiction takes action if a person or group of people cause the death of a person or persons in the course of:
- Depriving the person or persons of their civil rights under color of law
- For racial motives
- Damaging any religious property
It is a federal offense if a person or several people are killed because they are engaged in a federally sponsored or federally protected activity.
Punishment for Homicide
The punishment for homicide differs from location to location and is also based on the depth of the crime, whether it is unintentional homicide or criminal homicide. Although murder is essentially a violent crime that is traditionally prosecuted by local authorities, Congress has extended federal jurisdiction to cover some murders and cases of crimes resulting in death. If the murder is a federal offense, every now and then, the law increases the statutory maximum sentence to expose the defendant to capital punishment. A death that results from another offense is considered a non-capital case, but the punishment to the offense may differ depending on the statutory language. It only means that it must be proven that the illegal conduct was the underlying and proximate cause of death.
Of the 60 federal statutes covering murder or resulting in death offenses, 47 of them provide for capital punishment. As per the protocol, each U.S. Attorney has to make a submission to the Criminal Division for each case where a death penalty-eligible offense has been or could be charged against the defendant. The final decision is made by the Attorney General of the United States, whether the case will receive a death penalty.
Robbery refers to completed or attempted theft, directly by a person or a group of people, with or without a weapon, of cash or property, by force or threat of force, with or without injury. It also includes burglary and larceny and refers to:
- Property Stolen: When a person or group of people successfully take property from another person using force or threat of force, whether with or without a weapon, and with or without causing injury.
- Injury in Process of Stealing Property: When a person or group of people successfully take property from another person, and they attack in the process, whether with or without a weapon, causing injury.
- Attempted Property Stolen: When a person or group of people attempt to take property from another person using force or threat of force, whether with or without a weapon, and with or without causing injury.
- Injury in Process of Attempting to Steal Property: When a person or group of people attempt to take property from another person using force or threat of force, whether with or without a weapon, causing injury.
The crime can be against an individual, a business, or a financial institution. When the crime is committed against an individual or a small business, the case is prosecuted by local authorities. But any robbery, burglary, and larceny against financial institutions and their employees are codified under the Federal Bank Robbery Act.
A bank robbery is defined as: when someone takes or attempts to take, by force, violence, intimidation, or extortion any money, property, or any other thing of value belonging to or in the care, control, custody, management, or possession of any financial institution, such as a bank or credit union.
To establish that a bank robbery has been made, it must be proved that:
- While the money was in the care or custody of the bank, the defendant took or made an attempt to take money from a person or persons
- The taking or attempt to take money was by force and violence or intimidation
- The deposits of the bank were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Bank extortion, armed robbery, forced accompaniment during a bank robbery, bank burglary, and bank larceny are federal offenses, and the case is handled by the federal prosecutors.
Punishment for Robbery
The punishment for robbery differs from one crime to another, depending on the depth of the crime. Each punishment is different from the other depending on whether a weapon was used, whether a person or persons were injured, whether it’s a case of burglary or extortion, among others. The punishment is issued depending on the various elements of the crime.
Kidnapping and Hostage-Taking
Kidnapping at the federal level is the same as the common law offense of kidnapping and refers to transporting or abducting someone against their will. Federal kidnapping handles situations that involve international borders.
Kidnapping and hostage-taking address two crimes with similar elements. The statutes for both were formed to address different concerns. While the federal kidnapping statute addresses kidnappings that occur across the state and international lines, the hostage-taking statute addresses the act of terrorism. Both statutes have a role in combating human trafficking.
Punishment for Kidnapping and Hostage-Taking
Kidnapping is a serious felony offense, and depending on the circumstances of the case and prior convictions, the defendant may be punished with a prison sentence of twenty or more years. Hostage-taking is punishable by up to ten years of imprisonment. If there is a death involved in the hostage case, the defendant is punished by death.
Human trafficking is the practice or action of illegally transporting people from one area or country to another for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. A number of laws govern human trafficking crimes, as it is considered to be significant and a necessary step to combat peonage, slavery, and debt bondage. It is necessary to address human trafficking in a broad spectrum, as many of the cases do not appear as they are of involuntary movement. To address trafficking crimes, kidnapping and hostage-taking statutes can be the tools that are not just limited to the narrower circumstances.
Punishment for Human Trafficking
The punishment for human trafficking is severe. It involves a potential fine or a maximum prison term of twenty years in federal prison, or both.
Rape is forced sexual intercourse, where “force” refers to physical force, as well as psychological coercion. Forced sexual intercourse refers to penetration by the offender or offenders towards victims of all genders. It also includes both heterosexual and same-sex rape and attempted rape when it also includes verbal threats of rape.
Punishment for Rape
The punishment for rape in the United States can range from a fine to imprisonment, or both. The severity of the punishment is based on the depth of the case, whether there was violence, the victim’s age, and whether there were drugs or toxification involved, among others.
Sexual assault includes a wide range of victimization, separate from attempted rape or rape. It includes attacks or attempted attacks that generally involve unsolicited sexual contact between the offender and the victim. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats and may or may not involve force.
Punishment for Sexual Assault
The punishment for sexual assault may involve a fine, imprisonment, and registration as a sex offender.