Crimes Against the Government
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed February 23, 2017
While the majority of crimes are commited against particular people or pieces of property, certain types of crimes can have a broader impact, sometimes targeting the federal government or country as a whole. Unlike crimes that solely violate state laws, these types of acts violate federal law and are handled within the federal court system. FindLaw's Crimes Against the Government section explores these various crimes, which include treason, espionage, voter intimidation, and terrorism. Since these acts can potentially affect the safety and stability of the country, the penalties for a conviction can sometimes be severe. Read on to learn more about crimes against the government.
Federal Criminal Jurisdiction and Procedure at a Glance
The vast majority of crimes are those that violate state law, while the federal government (through Congress) may pass criminal laws but only if they specifically relate to a federal or national interest. The term "federal interest" is somewhat vague, but includes the following:
- Violations of immigration, customs, and border protection
- Crimes involving more than one state (including instances where the perpetrator has crossed state lines after committing a crime)
- Crimes involving federal officers or taking place on federal property
- Acts that threaten national security or risk exposure of top secret information
- Acts in support of terrorism
In the absence of a standing federal "police" force, federal crimes are typially investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and prosecuted by the Attorney General of the United States. Other federal agencies involved in the enforcement of federal criminal laws include the U.S. Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The federal government also maintains its own trial courts and prisons.
The definition of "terrorism" is not set in stone and has been altered by different presidential administrations throughout the years, often for political reasons. U.S. Code defines it as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
As you can see, those definitions are wide open to interpretation. Depending on the severity of the terrorist act, penalties range from imprisonment to capital punishment.
Rioting, Treason, and Rebellion
Rebellion, protest, and acts of civil disobedience are deeply rooted in the very fabric of the United States -- after all, the nation was born from a contentious split from the British monarchy. The challenge in any democracy is to allow avenues for protest and a redress of grievances while maintaining order and rule of law. There are several related crimes against the government that address violations of this delicate balance, including the following:
- Sedition: Actions or speech intended to incite people to rebel against the government.
- Treason: Crime of betraying one's country, typically through efforts to overthrow the government.
- Rioting: Participating in a violent public disturbance.
- Insurrection: Violent uprising against one's government.
- Sabotage: The intentional destruction or obstruction of something for political advantage.
This section covers a broad range of acts considered crimes against the government. Click on a link below to learn more.
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