Crime Control Acts

Crime Control Acts

The vast majority of substantive criminal statutes may be characterized, in one way or another, as "crime control acts." The term "crime control act" is often used in the titles of comprehensive bills that can be hundreds of pages long. These acts can identify a broad array of new crimes, revise existing criminal laws, enhance sentencing and other penalties attached to those crimes, and finance the provisions of these bills. Congress enacted a series of crime control statutes, especially during the late twentieth century, that has introduced a myriad of new forms of Criminal Law at the federal level, including provisions prohibiting money laundering, carjacking, drug enforcement, criminal forfeiture, and offenses under the racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations act.

According to the Task Force on Federalization of Criminal Law of the American Bar Association, only an "initial handful" of federal statutes existed at the turn of the nineteenth century, as federal criminal law consisted of a total of 17 statutes. Throughout the nineteenth century, federal criminal statutes were fairly narrow, generally protecting only federal interests and interests where the states held limited power to address a particular form of crime. The number of federal crimes, however, grew considerably toward the latter part of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. By the 1930s, Congress sought to address concerns that crime had become rampant across the United States, and that states had difficulty handling the increase of crime effectively.

Many of the federal criminal statutes in the 1930s addressed specific forms of criminal activity, such as kidnapping, racketeering, securities fraud, and the illegal use and sale of firearms. In 1934, Congress enacted a series of statutes known as the Crime Control Acts, chs. 299-304, 48 Stat. 780-83 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 18 U.S.C.A.). These acts included provisions for punishment for killing and assaulting federal officers, Extortion, transportation of kidnapped persons, and interstate flight, as well as provisions defining crimes in connection with the administration of federal prisons and crimes committed against banks operating under the laws of the United States.

Although the number of federal crimes continued to grow throughout the twentieth century, the perception persisted that crime was rampant throughout the United States, particularly during the turbulent times of the 1960s. Faced with the high incidence of crime throughout the country, Congress enacted the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Pub. L. No. 90-351, 82 Stat. 197 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 18 U.S.C.A.). When enacting this legislation, Congress acknowledged that crime is fundamentally a state and local problem, and that it requires the efforts of state and local law enforcement in order to control crime effectively. The 1968 statute encouraged states and units of local government to prepare and adopt comprehensive plans to address crime in those particular states or localities. Under the statute, Congress also authorized grants to the states and local entities to strengthen and improve law enforcement, and encouraged research and development that would be aimed at the improvement of law enforcement methods, the reduction of crime, and the detection and apprehension of criminals.

Included within the original Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act were a number of controversial provisions regarding wire intercepting and interception of oral communications, as well as measures to allow states and local agencies to control firearms at the local level. The provisions contained in this act have been amended and revised dozens of times since the initial 1968 enactment.

The federalization of criminal law continued during the 1970s. The Crime Control Act of 1973, 93-83, 87 Stat. 197 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 18 U.S.C.A.) serviced the same general purpose as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Its primary purpose was to provide grants and other funding to law enforcement agencies in their fights against crime at the state and local levels. Three years later, Congress approved the Crime Control Act of 1976, Pub. L. No. 94-503, 90 Stat. 2407 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 18 U.S.C.A.). The 1976 act established the Office of Community Crime Programs and other measures that were designed to enhance the ability of local law enforcement agencies.

Although federal criminal law had undergone a metamorphosis in the 1960s and 1970s, the federal criminal code had not undergone a comprehensive revision since the early 1900s. In 1984, Congress wrangled with a major bill that would provide this comprehensive revision, eventually enacting the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98-473, 98 Stat. 1976. Although controversial sections of the original bill related to Capital Punishment, an exception to the Exclusionary Rule in Criminal Procedure, restrictions on Habeas Corpus proceedings in federal courts, and liability of the government for Civil Rights violations were removed before the bill was passed, the final draft of the legislation was not satisfactory to several members of Congress. Within days of the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, Congress enacted the Criminal Fine Enforcement Act, Pub. L. No. 98-596, 98 Stat. 3134, which repealed some of the provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act soon after they became effective. Nevertheless, the provisions that remained intact were significant in federal criminal law.

Among the new provisions in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act were those addressing violent offenses, federal anti-terrorism provisions, certain economic offenses, controlled substances, and a number of other miscellaneous crimes. One of the more important measures in the act included a new system governing sentencing for federal crimes. Chapter 2 of the act, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, established the united states sentencing commission, which is responsible for drafting and revising the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The first of these sentencing guidelines went into effect in 1987, although they have been amended significantly since then. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines not only have changed the sentencing procedures in federal courts, but also have affected the ways in which state courts approach sentencing.

Comprehensive crime control legislation continued into the 1990s. The Crime Control Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-647, 104 Stat. 4789 further revised provisions of previous crime control statutes. Four years later, Congress addressed problems associated with violent crimes with the enactment of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796. That statute increased and enhanced punishment for violent offenders, including punishment of young offenders. The statute included numerous provisions regarding crime prevention. Some of the more controversial provisions of this act were contained in title IV of the statute, known as the violence against women act. Although the statute has increased funds for research and education to enhance knowledge and awareness for judges and judicial staff in matters involving Domestic Violence and sexual assault, the original statute also contained a measure that would make gender-motivated crimes a violation of federal civil rights law. The U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 120 S. Ct. 1740, 146 L. Ed. 2d 658 (2000), struck down the latter provision as unconstitutional.

Other crime control acts have addressed specific areas of concern with respect to crime. The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-452, 84 Stat. 922, for instance, addressed specific problems relating to Organized Crime, including the establishment of protected facilities to house government witnesses. The ongoing war against drugs has similarly led to the enactment of comprehensive legislation, including the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-570, 100 Stat. 3207 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-690, 102 Stat. 4181.

Scholars have criticized the continued growth of the federalization of criminal law, as Congress continues to enact these comprehensive crime control bills. Federal criminal law now consists of more than 3,000 individual criminal offenses, many times more than the number that existed a century ago. Supporters of these bills note, however, that state and local officials have not shown the ability to address many of the criminal problems that are addressed under the new federal laws, and that federal law enforcement is in a better position to conduct the type of investigation that is necessary to curb incidents of crime throughout the country.

Further readings

Abrams, Norman, and Sara Sun Beale. 2000. Federal Criminal Law and Its Enforcement. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.

George, B. James, Jr. 1986. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. New York: Law & Business.

Partridge, Anthony. 1985. The Crime Control and Fine Enforcement Acts of 1984: A Synopsis. Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center.

Strazzella, James A. 1996. The Federal Role in Criminal Law. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Periodicals Press.

Cross-references

Criminal Law; Criminal Procedure; Sentencing.

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