Federal Crimes Blog

18 U.S. Code § 842 - Explosive Materials

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Dec 15, 2023

Section 842 has several provisions addressing specified unlawful acts and includes new provisions implementing the "Plastic Explosives Convention." Explosive materials could be a significant risk to the public, which is one of the main reasons why there are strict federal laws regulating them.

Title 18 U.S.C. 842, “unlawful acts,” defines the laws related to explosive materials. These statutes make it a federal offense for people without a license to import, manufacture, distribute, or store explosive materials, which are highly controlled activities by the United States federal government.

18 U.S. Code § 842 - Explosives Materials
There are strict federal laws related to handling any explosive materials without a license.

Explosive materials” means explosives, blasting agents, and detonators. “Explosives” is any chemical compound mixture or device, the primary purpose of which is to function by explosion. It includes dynamite and other high explosives, black powder, pellet powder, initiating explosives, detonators, safety fuses, squibs, detonating cords, igniter cords, and igniters.

A “blasting agent” is any material or mixture, consisting of fuel and oxidizer, intended for blasting, provided that the finished product, as mixed for use or shipment, cannot be detonated using a numbered 8 test blasting cap when unconfined.

A “detonator” is any device containing a detonating charge that is used for initiating detonation in an explosive, such as electric blasting caps of instantaneous and delay types, blasting caps for use with safety fuses, and detonating-cord delay connectors.

Destructive devices are defined by 18 U.S.C. 921 as any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas; bombs, grenades; rockets with propellant charges, missiles with explosive charges, and any weapon that can expel a projectile with the help of an explosive or propellant, excluding shotguns.

What Does the Law Say?

18 U.S.C. 842 says, “(a) It shall be unlawful for any person—

(1) to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in explosive materials without a license issued under this chapter.

(2) knowingly withhold information or make any false or fictitious oral or written statement or to furnish or exhibit any false, fictitious, or misrepresented identification, intended or likely to deceive to obtain explosive materials, or a license, permit, exemption, or relief from disability under the provisions of this chapter.

(3) other than a licensee or permittee knowingly—

(A) to transport, ship, cause to be transported, or receive any explosive materials.
(B) to distribute explosive materials to any person other than a licensee or permittee; or

(4) who is a holder of a limited permit—

(A) to transport, ship, cause to be transported, or receive in interstate or foreign commerce any explosive materials; or

(B) to receive explosive materials from a licensee or permittee whose premises are located outside the State of residence of the limited permit holder or on more than six separate occasions during the period of the permit, to receive explosive materials from 1 or more licensees or permittees whose premises are located within the State of residence of the limited permit holder.”

Distributing Explosive Materials 

Section 842(d) says it's illegal to distribute explosive materials to any individual who knowingly: 

  • Is under the age of 21,
  • Convicted or under indictment of a crime punishable by one year,
  • A fugitive from justice,
  • Unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (21 U.S.C. 802),
  • Who has been committed to a mental institution,
  • An alien (Section 101(a)(20) of the Immigration and Nationality Act),
  • Discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions,
  • Has renounced their United States citizenship.

Unlawful Acts 

Section 842 covers a strict set of stipulations related to handling explosives. It also makes it a crime for someone to import, manufacture, or transport explosive materials without a license.

Making false statements or withholding information to obtain explosive materials or a license is also unlawful. Additionally, anyone with a license or permit is prohibited from distributing explosive materials who: 

  • Does not have a license or permit,
  • Transport explosives to a prohibited location,
  • Located somewhere in which such a transfer is illegal,
  • Manufacture or purchase explosives without keeping a record,
  • Possess or dispose of stolen explosive materials,
  • Storing explosives in an unapproved manner,
  • Fail to report stolen explosives within 24 hours of discovery,
  • Manufacture plastic explosives that do not contain a detection agent.

Teaching and Demonstrating

Section 842 (p)(2) explicitly prohibits teaching or demonstrating how to use or build an explosive, destructive device or a weapon of mass destruction.

The law also prohibits distributing any information that can be used to manufacture or use an explosive or a destructive device. This law applies to demonstrating to just one person or a group of people. 

Weapon of Mass Destruction

18 U.S.C. 2332a defines weapons of mass destruction as any destructive devices that are designed to cause death or serious injury through impact, weapons involving biochemical agents or toxins, or release high levels of radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.

What Are the Related Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 40 Importation, manufacture, distribution, and storage of explosive materials law has several federal laws related to 18 U.S.C. 842 unlawful acts, such as the following: 

  • 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.

What Are the Penalties? 

Violations of 18 U.S.C. 842 are severe due to the level of danger of explosive materials. Section 844 details the penalties for a conviction, such as the following: 

  • For most explosives, there are fines and a prison sentence of up to 10 years. 
  • For teaching and demonstrating the use of explosive materials, there are fines and a sentence of up to 20 years.
  • For violations dealing with plastic explosives without detection agents, storing or failing to report stolen materials, there are fines and under one year in federal prison.
  • For explosives used in a felonious act, there are up to 20 years in federal prison in addition to the penalties related to the underlying felony offense.
  • For explosives that affect interstate or foreign commerce, the penalties include 5-20 years of imprisonment.
  • For stealing explosive materials, there is a sentence of up to 10 years.
  • For distributing explosive materials knowing they will be used to commit a crime, the penalties will be the same as the underlying felony. 

California Penal Code 11418 PC is the weapons of mass destruction law, which says, “Anyone, without lawful authority, who possesses, develops, manufactures, produces, transfers, acquires, or retains any weapon of mass destruction, will be punished by imprisonment of 4, 8, or 12 years.

What are the Defenses? 

As discussed below, an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can use different legal strategies to obtain the best possible outcome. 

Maybe we can argue that you were unaware of a crime that was about to be committed with the use of explosive materials. Perhaps we can challenge one of the crucial elements of the crime that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction.

Perhaps there was an unlawful search and seizure by the government agents, which could lead to a dismissal of charges. Sometimes, it might be best to plead guilty to a lesser violation to avoid federal incarceration.  Perhaps we can successfully negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea agreement.

Contact us for a free case evaluation via phone or the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.

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Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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