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9-14-18

Crimes of violence definitions may be broadened


Staff Reports


Last week, the House passed (247/152) H.R. 6691, the Community Safety and Security Act of 2018, under a closed rule (a rule that prohibits amendments to a bill from the floor). This bill was introduced on August 31, 2018 by Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.


According to the Republican Policy Committee, H.R. 6691 amends the definition of  the term “crime of violence” in the U.S. Code.


Specifically:


Under subsection (a)(1), the term is defined by enumerating offenses that would qualify as crimes of violence. Subsection (a)(2) maintains the current definition of crime of violence that includes offenses that have “as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” Additionally, subsection (a)(3) clarifies that any inchoate offense involving the listed offenses also are included in the definition.



Subsection (b) defines the offenses in the enumerated list provided in subsection (a)(1) for the purposes of this section. It offers definitions for “abusive sexual contact,” “aggravated sexual abuse”  and “sexual abuse,” “assault,” “arson,” “burglary,” “carjacking,” “child abuse,” “communication of threats,” “coercion,” “domestic violence,” “extortion,” “firearms use,” “fleeing,” “force,” “hostage taking,” “human trafficking,” “interference with flight crew members and attendants,” “kidnapping,” “murder,” “robbery,” “stalking,” “weapon of mass destruction,” and “voluntary manslaughter.”



Subsection (c) provides that when a definition under subsection (b) references the federal code, an offense under state, tribal, or UCMJ law that would be a crime under the federal statute, but for the federal jurisdiction elements (such as interstate commerce), will qualify as a crime of violence under the definition.


Finally, Subsection (d) provides that the term “conspiracy” includes offenses that are conspiracies to commit other offenses under both Federal and State law, regardless of whether proof of an overt act is required.


Background


Under 18 USC § 16, the term “crime of violence” is currently defined as “(a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”


On April 17, 2017, in Sessions v. Dimaya, the Supreme Court ruled that the second clause of the definition of “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally void for vagueness. The Court’s decision will have ramifications throughout the criminal code.  For example, certain burglary, indecent assault and battery, stalking, and manslaughter convictions may no longer qualify as crimes of violence under this new framework, though they are clearly dangerous crimes.


It looks as though opponents of the bill seem more concerned for the rights of the criminal than the victim. The Human Rights Watch say they oppose the bill because the bill “…dangerously expands the definition of violent crime which fuels overcriminalization.” That it justifies more arrests and prosecutions and longer prison sentences. It bars people convicted of a crime of violence from pretrial release considerations, expungement of crimes, and receiving visitors.