Federal Criminal Law – The Federal Code

There are literally thousands of federal criminal laws on the books today, and learning them all would take more than a few law school courses.  But we at Burdick Law want everyone who is interested in understanding how the federal system works, or who is facing charges in that system, to have a solid understanding of what the laws are, what they mean, and what kind of penalties attach to them if you are convicted.

The Federal Criminal Code is divided into “Titles” or general sections.  The most expansive set of criminal offenses is contained in what is called Title 18 United States Code.  There the Code describes “general” criminal offenses, such as conspiracy; aiding and abetting; mail fraud; wire fraud; embezzelment; racketeering; money laundering; healthcare fraud; perjury (lying in court) and false statements (lying to to any federal officer or agent); racketeering (“RICO”); terrorism; obstruction of justice.

The second most commonly used sections is Title 21, which describes prohibited conduct related to drugs and narcotics violations.

Another important section is Title 31, which addresses all manner of financial institution violations, such as international money laundering and illegal structuring of financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements.

One important general matter relating to federal criminal law: in most state courts, there are generally what is called preliminary examinations (also called probable cause hearings) in advance of any referral of a felony charge to a trial court.  The “neutral examining magistrate” must find probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime.

In federal court there is, instead, grand jury presentation, review and consideration of the allegations made by an Assistant United States Attorney against individuals.  The theory of a grand jury is that these citizens listening (in secret) to the government’s allegations stand in the place of that independent state magistrate, and make that probable cause call.

More about all of these matters to follow soon – so please follow Burdick Law, P.C.

Federal Criminal Law – RICO (Racketeering)

In all of Federal Criminal Law, one of the toughest statutes is the one referred to as Racketeering(Title 18 §1962) is one of the most burdensome of all federal criminal laws, in that it operates more than anything to dramatically increase sentencing guidelines.

Clearly, the use of RICO can earn an individual a sentence of 20 years in prison (or for life if the violation is based on racketeering activity for which that maximum penalty is life in prison, even if the sentencing guidelines call for a much lower sentence – more about sentencing guidelines coming soon).

Any activity that results in any kind of interference (actual or theoretical) with interstate commerce by threats or violence, brings a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years under § 1962.

Participating in the operation of a business (even an orignally legal one) which is involved in some way in “interstate commerce,” that is, activities; taking over a legitimate business through racketeering (such as extortion, threats of violence, etc.); or conspiring to do any of these things.  (Stand by for information from Burdick Law, P.C. with definitions of conspiracy – a very troubling concept.)

Or just distributing or investing the proceeds of any unlawful activity (such as selling televisions in one state that were stolen in another state), or investing illegally earned money in stocks and bonds, results in the same enormous penalty if the government can prove the elements of racketeering.

When Congress enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, many states started to follow with similar laws. In order to convict someone under RICO, it’s no longer necessary to prove the suspect personally committed any of the illegal activity. Instead, prosecutors only need to prove:

· The defendant owns and/or manages an organization which is operated illegally, the “enterprise,” in the jargon of the statute;

· The defendants engaged in at least two or more “predicate offenses” (which now includes pretty much all serious federal crimes) and . . . and which were connected to each other by a common scheme or plan, and committed within 10 years of each other.

Although RICO was initially created to prosecute infamous crime rings such as the “Mafia” and similar gangs of organized criminals, it was soon stretched to cover many other criminal activities. For example, RICO charges were brought against pro-life activists for illegally blocking the entrance to abortion clinics.

All in all, RICO is a very tough law, one which is being used more than it should if for no other reason than to ratchet up the potential sentencing a defendant faces, to thereby coerce him to plead guilty to something lesser.