The Corner

Law & the Courts

Real or Fake, Bomber Looking at Life Imprisonment

A package containing a “live explosive device” according to police, received at the Time Warner Center which houses the CNN New York bureau, in New York City, U.S. is shown in this handout picture provided October 24, 2018. (Courtesy CNN/Handout via REUTERS )

The Washington Examiner’s Kelly Cohen correctly points out that the person or persons who sent apparent explosive devices to prominent Democrats (for simplicity’s sake, I include actor and Trump critic Robert De Niro in that category) is looking at up to 100 years in a penitentiary under a federal criminal statute.

But that’s just for starters.

Ms. Cohen is looking at the laws that refer to explosives, specifically to Section 844(d) of the penal code (Title 18 of the U.S. Code), which makes it a crime to transport an explosive with the intent to kill, injure, or intimidate any person. Since no bombs have exploded so far and no one has been injured, the maximum penalty of incarceration under the statute is ten years. (If people are injured or killed by bombings, the penalties increase to anywhere from 20 years to life-imprisonment, or even the death penalty.)

As I’ve recounted in the past, federal criminal law was ill-prepared for terrorism (especially international terrorism) when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. We had the explosives statutes, but they were inadequate for a variety of reasons. The law was thus overhauled in the mid Nineties, with Congress enacting new crimes that were tailored to terrorism methods, organizational structure, and financing.

Among the new laws that were enacted was Section 2332a, criminalizing the use of weapons of mass destruction. WMD are very broadly defined in federal law, such that they include “destructive devices,” which (under another broadly drawn statute, Section 921) include any kind of explosive bomb or “similar device.” The WMD statute makes it a crime to use or even merely threaten to use such a weapon against a person or property within the United States, as long as the terrorist uses the postal service or some other facility in interstate commerce (a low hurdle — a courier service would qualify, as would a multi-state mail-bombing scheme), or the targeted property belongs to the government.

If convicted under this statute, a bomber “shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, and if death results, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

For good measure, there is also Section 351 of the penal code, which punishes with up to ten years’ imprisonment assaults with dangerous weapons on members of Congress and certain other government officials. Section 879 punishes with up to five years’ imprisonment threats against former presidents and members of their immediate families; and Section 876 also punishes for up to five years’ imprisonment the mailing of any threatening communication.

Suffice it to say that, regardless of whether the bombs sent to prominent Democrats are real explosive devices or dummies intended to terrorize but not detonate, the person or people who sent them should never again see the light of day.

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