After the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the United States Congress passed the Patriot Act, which modified 18 U.S. Code 2331 by defining domestic terrorism.
Terrorism is a serious international issue, and the United States government considers local acts of terrorism an attack on national security. Terrorism has different legal definitions depending on the type of crime and the location where it was committed.
For example, 18 U.S. Code 2331(1) says, “International terrorism means activities that (A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life… or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, and (c) or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished….”
18 U.SC 2331(5) says “domestic terrorism”is defined the same as above but occurs primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Simply put, domestic terrorism is described as activities involving violations of United States federal or state laws that are dangerous to human life that are intended to do any of the following:
- Intimidate a civilian population;
- Influence government policy through coercion;
- Impact the conduct of the United States government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;
The main difference between domestic and international terrorism is where the crime occurred. Let's review this federal law further below.
What Is Terrorism?
Suppose someone is attempting to intimidate the population or change a government policy. In that case, some will commit different types of dangerous activities considered acts of terrorism.
Historically, the most common acts, attempted acts, or threats of terrorism include the following:
- Bombings and use of explosives;
- Chemical attacks;
- Tampering or destroying aircraft defined by 18 U.S. Code 2332g;
- Assassination of government officials;
- Attacking a federal facility or public transportation defined by 18 U.S. Code 2332f;
- Chemical attacks;
- Hostage-taking or kidnapping;
- Torture or mass murder, such as shootings in public places;
- Nuclear or biological weapons defined by 18 U.S. Code 2332i;
- Weapons of mass destruction.
Further, participation with domestic terrorists could also result in federal criminal charges, such as the following:
- Harbors a terrorist as defined under 18 U.S. Code 2339;
- Finances terrorist activity as defined under 18 U.S. Code 2332d;
- Provides support to terrorists defined under 18 U.S. Code 2339A;
- Conspiracy to commit terrorism even if the crime was never committed, but attempted or conspired to do so, defined under 18 U.S.C. 2332b (a)(2).
Notably, anyone who aids and abets terrorists could face charges as though they had completed the act of terrorism.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 113B has numerous federal statutes that are related to terrorism, such as the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 2331 - definitions;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332 - criminal penalties;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332a - use of weapons of mass destruction;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332b - acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332d - financial transactions;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332e - requests for military assistance;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332f - bombings of places of public use;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332g - missile systems designed to destroy aircraft;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332h - radiological dispersal devices;
- 18 U.S.C. 2332i - acts of nuclear terrorism;
- 18 U.S.C. 2333 - civil remedies;
- 18 U.S.C. 2334 - jurisdiction and venue;
- 18 U.S.C. 2335 - limitation of actions;
- 18 U.S.C. 2336 - other limitations;
- 18 U.S.C. 2337 - suits against government officials;
- 18 U.S.C. 2338 - exclusive federal jurisdiction;
- 18 U.S.C. 2339 - harboring or concealing terrorists;
- 18 U.S.C. 2339A - provide material support to terrorists;
- 18 U.S.C. 2339B - material support to foreign terrorists;
- 18 U.S.C. 2339C - prohibits the financing of terrorism;
- 18 U.S.C. 2339D - military training from foreign terrorists.
Notably, 18 U.S. Code 2332d Financial Transactions says, “Whoever, being a United States person, knowing or having reasonable cause to know that a country is designated under section 6(j)  of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2405) as a country supporting international terrorism, engages in a financial transaction with the government of that country, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than ten years, or both.”
What Are the Penalties for Terrorism?
Suppose you are convicted of an act of terrorism. In that case, the penalties are severe due to the negative effect on the general public, but it will depend on the case details.
The potential penalties often depend on whether someone was killed, which could carry life in federal prison or the death penalty.
If nobody were killed, the penalties would vary one was killed. For example, 18 U.S.C. 2332(b) Attempt or Conspiracy with Respect to Homicide carries a fine and up to 20 years in federal prison. Making, possessing, or threatening a weapon of mass destruction carries up to nine years in prison.
What Are the Defenses?
Your freedom is in jeopardy if you have been accused of terrorism. Not all defense lawyers know how to deal with terrorism charges, which carry some of the most severe punishments of any law in the United States.
Suppose you have been accused of international or domestic terrorism. In that case, you are facing a challenging battle in court and will also be fighting public opinion, assuming you are guilty as charged. You will need an experienced team of federal criminal defense lawyers to have the best chance of a favorable outcome.
Federal prosecutors must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all the elements of the crime to secure a conviction, which is often challenging.
Maybe we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity, which is more likely in cultural bias cases like terrorism. Perhaps we can say that another person had a motive to accuse you, such as a covering-up for their criminal conduct.
Perhaps we can argue that you did not know about any intended terrorism, which could be an argument when you are accused of aiding and abetting a terrorist.
Maybe we can argue that there was an illegal search and seizure by government law enforcement agents, which could lead to getting the case dropped. You can contact us for a confidential free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.