Authorities at the federal level treat terrorism accusations with utmost seriousness. If convicted, you could potentially face the death penalty or a life sentence. Terrorism is not limited to foreign organizations. It can also occur within a nation's borders. This holds even for individuals who have never left their own country.

The government has the authority to file charges of attempted terrorism under the ever-expanding terrorism statutes, even in cases where no one has been physically harmed. This blog delves deeper into what the criminal offense of “terrorism” means.

Understanding Terrorism Offense

Terrorism is a distinct crime under federal laws. The federal government usually takes special measures to track down and prosecute individuals who are believed to be involved in terrorism. Terrorism charges carry among the worst penalties under federal laws.

The federal statute addressing terrorism falls under the United States Code Chapter 113B. This section defines "terrorism" as engaging in crimes that include violating any state's or the federal government's criminal laws (or, if done abroad, those regulations would still be violated) and posing a threat to people's lives.

Terrorism could also create the impression that it is intended to:

  • Influence a government's policies through coercion or intimidation.
  • Intimidate or cause tension in the general population.
  • Assassinate, abduct, or cause mass destruction to influence a government's actions.

Terrorism Charges at the Federal Level

Allegations of terrorist activity often involve accusations of aggressive or dangerous behavior, along with plans to instill fear or coerce government officials and the public. The following activities, or attempts to engage in these activities, could be considered terrorist acts if they are committed in accordance with federal law:

  • Aircraft destruction.
  • Threats from biological or nuclear weapons.
  • Abduction of a government official.
  • Assassination of a government official.
  • Property bombing or arson.
  • Using explosives.
  • Attacking federal facilities.
  • Conspiracy to maim, murder, or kidnap.
  • Taking hostages.
  • Terrorist attacks against public transportation.
  • Mass-destructive weapons.
  • Harboring terrorists.
  • Supplying resources to terrorist groups.
  • Supporting the funding of terrorist activities.
  • Using torture.
  • Bombing public areas.
  • Nuclear sabotage.
  • Attacking a flight crew member.
  • Destroying gas pipelines.

Under current federal legislation, many different kinds of activities could be considered to be terrorist acts. One example of this kind of behavior would be carrying out a violent act without giving any thought to the potential repercussions of one's actions.

The burden of proof for the prosecution to establish a person's guilt of committing a terrorism offense is high. A violent threat can result in harsh criminal consequences, and terrorism counts as a serious offense. Terrorism on your criminal record is detrimental and can haunt you for the rest of your life. A terrorist threat is usually regarded as a felony crime under federal law. Most of the time, the crime is classified as a third-degree felony.

Domestic vs. International Terrorism

Many terrorism regulations in the US were modified after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Federal authorities now have additional resources dedicated to the investigation and punishment of terrorism, including domestic and international terrorism.

Geographical location is usually the determining factor in distinguishing between domestic and international terrorism. International terrorism is defined as any activity that predominantly occurs outside of the United States' territorial authority or crosses international borders. Domestic terrorism can occur when the activities are principally committed within US territorial authority.

The U.S. Code still defines terrorism in the same way. It includes any violent or potentially lethal act that seems to be aimed at intimidating or compelling the general public, influencing policies of the government through coercion or intimidation, or having an impact on government behavior through abductions, the use of mass destruction, or assassinations.

Crimes of Conspiracy and Complicity

There can be other criminal charges brought against an individual in addition to the underlying illegal act itself, one of which is conspiracy. When two or more persons decide to engage in an illegal act and use overt means to facilitate the crime, this is known as a conspiracy. This implies that in addition to being found guilty of committing terrorism, you could also be convicted of the additional charge of taking overt measures and conspiring with another person to carry out the offense.

The individual assisting and abetting can be tried for having committed the crimes themselves under 18 U.S.C. § 2, which states that the perpetrator's actions turn into an aider and abettor. You will be equally punished for encouraging, abetting, counseling, ordering, inducing, or procuring the execution of the crime as the primary offender.

If an offender aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures the execution of the alleged offenses, they could face the same punishment as the individual who is primarily accountable under these charges, even if the prosecutor does not need to show that you were the main perpetrator of the terrorist acts.

The Patriot Act

In 2001, the USA Patriot Act was approved into law by Congress to provide law enforcement with additional resources to detect and combat terrorism. The passage of this landmark legislation is expected to result in the following enhancements to the actions of the United States government in its fight against terrorism:

  • Allow law enforcement investigators to look into drug trafficking and organized crime using the resources that are accessible.
  • Empower law enforcement to utilize surveillance to combat additional terrorist crimes.
  • Permit federal authorities to pursue highly-skilled terrorists who have been educated to avoid detection.
  • Enable law enforcement to carry out inquiries without disclosing any information to terrorists.
  • Allows federal officials to request a court order to access corporate documents in circumstances involving national security and terrorism.
  • Encourage government entities to collaborate and share information to help law enforcement "connect the pieces of the puzzle".
  • Allow search warrants to be obtained by law enforcement if terrorist activity is suspected.
  • Allow computer hacking victims to seek help from law enforcement in keeping an eye on the "trespassers" using their systems.
  • Increase the penalty for terrorism perpetrators.

There is more state-specific legislation that combat domestic terrorism in addition to the federal USA Patriot Act.

Hertzberg-Alarcon California Terrorism Prevention Act

Under California PEN 11415, commonly known as the Hertzberg-Alarcon California Prevention of Terrorism Act, the threat of terrorism is defined as the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such as chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons. The primary goal of the Hertzberg-Alarcon California Terrorism Prevention Act of 1999 was to prohibit the production and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the commission of terrorist acts.

The law, in seven separate provisions, prohibits the possession or carrying of the following weapons:

  • Blister agents, which include incapacitating chemicals and mustards.
  • Nerve agents, such as Sarin.
  • Blood agents such as Hydrogen Cyanide.
  • Choking agents, such as Phosgene.
  • Biological weapons, like viruses or bacteria, that have been weaponized.
  • Radiological or nuclear agents.
  • Vectors—living things or chemicals—can carry toxins.

Terrorist Threats

Even in circumstances where there is no bomb, no deaths, and no remote possibility of terrorist activities, there is still a risk of being charged with making a threat of terrorism. In the United States, it is illegal to make threats to kidnap, kill, attack, or cause harm to another person. Committing such acts is considered a felony. Additionally, it is also a felony to make threats to damage or destroy any structure that poses a significant risk of causing serious physical harm. Anyone who makes a terrorist attack threat is highly likely to receive a minimum sentence of ten years in jail.

Investigations into Terrorism

Several state and federal authorities could get involved in investigations involving terrorism. This comprises the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and local law enforcement organs.

Investigations may begin with little proof against the defendant. Simple statements made on social media could be enough to warrant an investigation. Before accusing a person of terrorism, investigators can use informants to help gather more evidence.

Informants, on the other hand, can be untrustworthy or even try to convince a law-abiding individual to consent to take part in a criminal act. Some informants get paid, whereas others can work as informants to get special treatment to alleviate the penalties for criminal charges against them.

You may have no idea how to react if you're the subject of a terrorism probe. The issue won't be resolved by attempting to evade the probe or ignore it. Making the crucial choice of whether or not to share information with the authorities could make a difference in your case. Legal representation can assist you in taking the necessary actions to prevent prosecution as soon as you're aware of the investigation.

Potential Consequences for Terrorism Charges

Conviction on terrorism-related offenses can result in severe punishments. The use of a WMD carries harsh penalties of any number of years behind bars, including life imprisonment. The death sentence could be applied as a form of punishment if terrorist actions resulted in any deaths.

Despite California's ban on the death penalty, the state's restrictions don't apply to individuals accused of federal crimes. Even in jurisdictions where the death penalty is prohibited, federal penalties on terrorism could still result in a death sentence.

Even in the unlikely event that nobody is hurt or killed, a person could face an extended prison sentence. The penalties for giving material assistance or supplies to terrorist organizations could result in a 20-year prison sentence. If somebody dies as a result of this, the term could amount to life behind bars.

According to California's anti-terrorism statutes, the following are the consequences for having and utilizing WMD:

  • If you intentionally inflict "disabling injury or illness" on an individual with a nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological weapon, you could face the possibility of serving a life sentence in prison.
  • If you "possess, manufacture, develop, produce, acquire, retain, or transfer any WMD," you will face a term of four, eight, or twelve years behind bars.
  • If you use a WMD against other individuals in a way that has the potential to cause "death or great bodily injury," you will face a life sentence without the chance of release.
  • Any individual who utilizes a WMD against crops, animals, or seeds intending to cause serious damage or a significant decline in the value of the crops or livestock faces a maximum penalty of 12 years behind bars and a hefty fine not exceeding $100,000.
  • When a WMD is used in a manner that jeopardizes food supplies or water sources, the offender faces a penalty of five, eight, or twelve years in prison and a hefty fine not exceeding $100,000.

How to Defend Yourself Against Terrorism Charges

Terrorism charges are extremely serious, and before the accused party gets a chance to appear in court, the local community and public often make judgments about their guilt. There are several defense arguments for federal terrorism accusations, including mistaken identity and false claims made by anyone seeking revenge.

To secure a guilty conviction on terrorism-related accusations, it is the prosecution's responsibility to demonstrate, undoubtedly, that all the necessary components of the allegations are present. An experienced criminal defense attorney, who specializes in federal terrorism cases, will thoroughly evaluate your case. They will develop a sound strategy to fight the claims made against you, with the goal of avoiding a jail sentence.

Find A Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Authorities take strong legal action when someone is accused of terrorism. At the Law Office of Sara L. Caplan, we believe that every person is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Being suspected of terrorism does not automatically make someone guilty. There have been instances of fraudulent accusations or identity theft. In summary, it is possible to refute accusations of terrorism.

We can defend you against these allegations and work towards having them dropped. Terrorism-related cases can be highly complex, which is why it is crucial to have an experienced lawyer by your side. Contact our Los Angeles office today at 310-550-5877.