In the October and November, 1993, issues of PLN, I wrote articles about the "anti-crime" proposals that had been submitted in the US Congress by democrats and republicans, respectively. I predicted then the most repressive aspects of both proposals would likely wind up in the final version of the law that was approved. Unfortunately, I was right. On September 13, 1994, Bill Clinton signed the final version of the crime bill into law.
While the crime bill as a whole is pretty outrageous the worst part about it is that they stole Mayday! May 1 has historically been celebrated by class conscious workers around the world as the day of unity and solidarity amongst working class people. It was originally started as a protest against the state murder of the anarchists convicted of the Haymarket bombings in Chicago in the 1880's. That makes what has happened all the more repulsive. The crime bill establishes May 1 as "Law Day USA." The law states: "It is the sense of the Senate that in celebration of `Law Day USA' May 1, 1995, the grateful people of this Nation should give special emphasis to all law enforcement personnel of the United States, and the grateful people of this nation should acknowledge the unflinching and devoted service law enforcement personnel perform." "These personnel help preserve domestic tranquility and guarantee the legal rights of all individuals of this Nation." Yes, even Rodney King. Have they no shame?
The political spectacle that accompanied the crime bill illustrates a lot of what is wrong with the Amencan political system. Essentially politicians got caught up in a frenzy of out bidding each other as to who could be "toughest" on "crime and criminals." This is an easy topic because there are no vested interests opposed to prisons, police or punishment. These laws only affect poor people and they don't have a voice that anyone with power in this country must listen to. After all, unlike health care or manufacturing, there are no prisoner or civil liberties Political Action Committees donating bundles of cash or taking politicians on junkets anywhere. It is worth noting that the Crime Bill is the only significant piece of domestic legislation passed by Clinton to date.
The same week congress passed the crime bill it also passed the "Bank Reform Bill." Included in this law is a provision which will prevent the government from pursuing negligence cases against the individuals who caused the collapse of the savings and loan industry (mainly by looting the institutions they were entrusted to run or that they owned). Federal banking regulators estimate that this "banker's escape clause" will cost taxpayers some $1.6 billion in cases they would have won against the S&L theives. That is money that would have gone towards the more than $500 billion that taxpayers will be paying due to the collapse of the S&L industry. Bankers and financial institutions are able to lobby for laws like this. Thus, it is apparent that "crime" isn't the issue, the issue is who steals what from whom. Obviously it's much better to loot your own bank than rob someone elses. A lot safer too.
The mood of congress was accurately captured by Senator Joe Biden, himself an admitted plagiarist, who said "If someone came to the floor and said we should barb wire the ankles of anyone who jaywalks, I think it would pass." Of course he voted for the crime bill. One senator sought to bar the death penalty for juveniles and he was angrily voted down 93 to 7 The lone vote against the "3 strikes" law was Bob Packwood, hardly someone too concerned about his political image at this point. The crime bill comes as reported crimes are actually declining in the US but as the imprisonment rate continues to soar.
Samuel Glascock, a Virginia state legislator, accurately summed up the current political climate when he said: "This is an age politically where, if you are tough on crime, then I've got to be tougher. No matter what you float out, I've got to be tougher than you. No matter what I float out, you've got to be tougher than me. You've got to wonder where it all leads." This crime bill is a perfect example where it all leads.
Initially the crime bill was slated to cost $11 billion, then $22 billion. The version signed into law authorizes $30 billion to be spent. The actual amount spent will likely be much higher. While several billion go for the states to hire more cops, no funds are allotted for the states to hire prosecutors, judges or public defenders to process the resulting arrests. It is worth noting that early in his term Clinton made a tepid request from congress for a $30 billion assistance package to cities for urban development. That was ridiculed as being "too much." So instead of a public housing policy, the US has a prison building policy, instead of aid to children we have juvenile prisons; etc. The money to pay for the crime bill is supposed to come from savings in reducing the federal work force by nearly a quarter million employees.
Republican critics claimed that the token amounts of money in the bill for youth recreation programs and such are "pork." But the real "pork" literally and figuratively, is in the police and prison provisions of the bill. Upcoming articles in PLN will focus on the waste and fraud inherent in prison building and maintenance. No concern is given for how money spent on that part of the repressive state apparatus is actually used.
To get an idea of the political impact this law will have, it's interesting to note that it criminalizes more behavior, increases penalties and makes more crimes eligable for the death penalty. It also seeks to disarm citizens by ensuring that only the police and military have access to paramilitary weapons. [A future issue of PLN will discuss the politics of gun control.] Typically empires in decline resort to increased military interventions abroad and increased repression at home in an effort to maintain political dominance. The crime bill fits into this context quite well. Unlike past empires in crisis, the US does not have any significant political opposition within its own borders. But, the ruling class isn't taking any chances.
While the mainstream media has given piecemeal tidbits about the crime bill, taken as a whole it is a major piece of repressive legislation. Since 1945 every US Congress, except the 1990-92 congress, has passed a crime bill purported to end crime, "get tough" on criminals, etc. Those laws have failed and about the only likely result of this law, officially titled the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994," will be massive prison overcrowding in the next two decades as its full impact takes effect. The final version of the bill is 120 pages long. It contains many administrative amendments to existing laws, clarifications, etc., in addition to its substantive portions. Here are the highlights of the law most likely to affect and interest our readers.
Crowding: In an amendment sponsored by senator Jesse Helms and passed without debate by both houses of Congress, the bill seeks to limit the power of federal courts to impose remedies in prison overcrowding suits where constitutional violations result. "A federal court shall not hold prison or jail crowding unconstitutional under the eighth amendment except to the extent that an individual plaintiff inmate proves that the crowding causes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment on that inmate." Federal courts are forbidden to place population caps on jail or prison, as an injunction, unless "crowding is inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on particular identified prisoners." These requirements do not prevent federal courts from ordering improved medical or health care or imposing civil contempt fines and damages.
With regards to consent decrees limiting prison and jail populations, the bill states that such decrees shall be subject to reopening at prison officials' request no less than every two years. The law applies to all consent decrees in effect and litigation pending at the time of passage. The law contains a sunset provision whereby it is automatically repealed five years after enactment. In practice, laws with sunset provisions are routinely extended by Congress when they are about to expire.
It does not appear that this law will have much impact on prison overcrowding litigation. Since the Supreme Court' s 1991 decision in Wilson v Seiter, few if any courts have been able or willing to find an eighth amendment violation resulting from prison overcrowding. Courts cannot find constitutional violations, nor issue injunctive relief, unless harm has been proven to specific plaintiffs. Most population caps are the results of consent decrees. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure such decrees can be reviewed upon the motion of either party at any time. Again, the law appears to codify existing law and practices into legislation. The obvious attempt is to allow the massive overcrowding of prisons with no form of relief. With prison systems operating at 180% of capacity in some states it is not surprising that Congress has made an attempt to head off injunctions at the pass, so to speak. As a constitutional matter, it is not clear whether this amendment will pass constitutional muster on separation of powers grounds. Historically, federal courts have wide leeway to remedy a constitutional violation once it is found. Courts have imposed population caps on prisons and jails in the past because it is more immediate relief than ordering states and cities to build more jails or prisons or order the release of prisoners. Population caps allow defendants to decide how to allocate their resources.
The law also requires that any new or proposed federal legislation imposing criminal penalties be accompanied by a "Prison Impact Assessment." The attorney general and sentencing guidelines commission must provide a report stating what impact such laws will have on prison, probation and post-prison supervision populations and how much these changes will cost in terms of prison construction, etc.
Pell Grants: This law abolished Pell grants for prisoners. A detailed article on the subject by Dan Pens follows this article.
Good Time: 18 U.S.C § 3624 was amended so that federal prisoners serving a sentence of more than 1 year for a violent crime ". . may receive credit towards the service of the prisoner's sentence, beyond the time served, of up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner' s term of imprisonment, beginning at the end of the first year of the term, subject to the determination by the Bureau of Prisons that, during that year, the prisoner has displayed exemplary compliance" with disciplinary rules.
Location: In what could be called the "Leona Helmsley" law, the bill states that in designating a prisoner's place of imprisonment or transfers, "there shall be no favoritism given to prisoners of high social or economic status." Leona Helmsley, serving a two year sentence for tax evasion was initially confined at the women's prison in Lexington, KY. She was later transferred to the prison at Danbury, CT, about 20 miles from her palatial estate and billionaire husband. So, who's going to enforce this?
Money for State Prisons: The bill allocates nearly $8 billion dollars for use as matching grants to states to build and operate prisons, called "Violent Offender Incarceration Grants." The money comes with a lot of strings attached. The federal govemment will only provide up to 75% of the money, the states have to come up with the rest. To be eligible, the state must have laws similar to federal law requiring that prisoners serve at least 85% of the sentence imposed by the court. For states with determinate sentencing systems this will be easy enough to comply with. States with indeterminate sentencing systems will likely have to change their sentencing systems in order to comply and be eligible for the funds. The money can be used to build, operate, expand or modify prisons so long as it is designed to ensure "that prison cell space is available for the confinement of violent offenders." As most state prisoners are serving time for drug or property crimes there will not be much impact on prison populations until the sentencing of such offenders is changed. The money runs out in the year 2000. So states who use the money to build new prisons or expand existing ones will find themselves stuck with the operating costs and more than likely, a much higher prison population than if they had foregone the money.
States getting the money must enact policies within 18 months after the law was signed, "to determine the veteran status of inmates and to ensure that incarcerated veterans receive the veteran's benefits to which they are entitled."
Aliens: In recent months several states (California, Florida, Texas, New Jersey and Arizona) have sued the federal government for the cost of imprisoning illegal aliens who commit crimes in those states. The states claim that if the federal government, i.e. the Border Patrol and INS, did a better job patrolling the nation's borders this would not be a problem. Congress provided $1.8 billion dollars to reimburse states who incarcerate illegal aliens in their state prison systems. The law also allows states to turn such aliens over to the federal government for incarceration.
Drug Testing and Treatment: Federal courts are required to establish a program so that all offenders on post prison supervision and probation are subject to drug testing after release. In cases where imprisonment may result from a positive result or the defendant denies drug use, an accurate confirmation test must be used.
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was ordered to establish substance abuse treatment programs within facilities so that by 1997 all prisoners eligible for the program, i.e. those with substance abuse problems, can receive treatmemt. Priority for treatment is established by proximity to release. The program requires not less than 50% of eligible prisoners receive treatment by the end of fiscal year 1995 . Prisoners convicted of non violent offenses may have up to one year reduced from their sentences by the BOP upon completing the program. Over $100 million was allotted for this program. The programs must last between 6 and 12 months and be "in residential treatment facilities set apart from the general prison population."
The bill also allots $270 million for state prison systems to establish a similar substance abuse treatment program. States must put up at least 25% of the money, the feds can supply the rest.
Family Unity Project: Criminal defendants sentenced to terms of less than 7 years who are the primary care giver of children under seven years of age can be permitted to serve their sentences, with their children, in community correctional facilities. The law allocates money to both the states and BOP to establish the project in an attempt to alleviate the effects that incarceration has on small children and family relationships.
Release Notification: Five days before federal prisoners are released from custody the BOP is required to give written notice of the release to the top law enforcement officer of the state and local jurisdiction where the ex-prisoner will be residing. The BOP will also provide them with any address changes. The law applies to prisoners convicted of drug or violent crimes.
Prison Job Training: The attorney general was instructed to establish an Office of Correctional Job Training and Placement within the Justice Department. The goal is to "encourage and support job training programs, and job placement programs, that provide services to incarcerated persons or ex-offenders." It will essentially act as a clearinghouse for information on prison employment, i.e. slave labor, and provide technical and special assistance to state prison systems.
TB: $5 million was appropriated for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in prison systems across the country. The money is in the form of a 50% matching grant. Given the fact that a TB epidemic is sweeping the country's prisons, largely brought on and encouraged by overcrowding and inadequate ventilation systems, $5 million seems unlikely to do much to address the problem. After all, the causes of TB are well known as are its treatment and prevention.
DNA Database: $40 million was allocated for the attorney general to distribute to states in order to standardize and improve the quality of DNA identification labs and systems. More money will go to establish a DNA index, to be maintained by the FBI, listing DNA samples of convicts, from crime scenes and unidentified human remains.
Death Penalty and Punishment: I will discuss the rest of the death penalty provisions separately, but will list those applying specifically to prisoners here. Federal prisoners serving life sentences can be killed by the govemment now if they are convicted of murder while in prison, federal prisoners who have escaped and killed someone, to kill a prison guard if the guard is transporting the defendant between states or if the state prisoner is also serving a federal sentence. Killing BOP guards also qualifies for the death penalty.
Congress ordered the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to increase the penalties for those convicted of using or smuggling illegal drugs in federal prisons. It also prohibits probation for anyone convicted of smuggling drugs into prison.
Weights: The house of representatives passed an amendment which would have banned the use of weights for recreational purposes in federal prisons. This amendment did not pass in the final law. So the BOP weights are safe for now.
Police and Repression:
The above provisions apply to those who have already been convicted and are in prison. But, a good portion of the bill was also designed to ensure that prisons don't run out of prisoners anytime soon. Not only was more conduct criminalized, sentences enhanced, punishment harshened but it also came with more cops.
More Cops: One of Clinton's campaign promises was that if elected he would put 100,000 more cops on the street. The crime bill purports to do that but critics say it will actually fund far fewer, between 40,000 and 50,000. According to the Department of Justice, in 1992 state and local police agencies employed 841,099 full-time police and civilian personnel with an additional 90,000 part time employees. This number doesn't include prison employees nor federal law enforcement agencies. The crime bill seeks to increase the number of uniformed police by more than 10%. This is a significant increase.
The bill allots almost $10 billion dollars for the states to use to hire more cops at the local level. The money will be distributed according to a complex grant formula whereby the federal government only funds up to 75% of the cost of hiring a new cop for the first year and that money decreases each year until it ends in the year 2000. Whether cities faced with decreasing tax bases and increasing expenses will be able to afford to hire more police will remain to be seen. The bill also emphasizes that police departments should hire military troops who have been discharged as a result of military force reductions. One way that local police departments could increase the number of police is by turning over clerical and administrative tasks to civilians who cost less to employ, however, that is unlikely to happen as it would eliminate cushy office jobs for cops too old, fat or burned out to actually police anything.
Large chunks of money were allocated for the hiring of more federal law enforcement agents, mainly with the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service, but also with the FBI, DEA and all branches of the treasury police, i.e. BATF, Customs, IRS, Secret Service, etc. The judiciary and federal prosecutors also received more money. All told the sum is almost $1.3 billion dollars. This is money in addition to these agencies' normal authorized budgets and in addition to the funds allocated specifically for the hiring of more federal agents. It is interesting to note that no funds are allocated for providing a defense to the indigent criminal defendants who will be the targets of this frenzied police activity.
3 Strikes: The centerpiece of Clinton's crime bill is the "3 Strikes You're Out" provision. I discussed the shortcomings of this type of law in the June, 1994, issue of PLN, so I won't cover that again. The federal law provides that anyone convicted of a serious violent felony in federal court shall be sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment if: "the person has been convicted (and those convictions have become final) on separate prior occasions in a court of the United States or of a state of two or more serious violent felonies, or one or more serious violent felonies and one or more serious drug offenses; and each serious violent felony or serious drug offense used as a basis for sentencing under this subsection, other than the first, was committed after the defendant's conviction of the preceding serious violent felony or serious drug offense." Thus, separate trips through the courts are not required for a defendant to be three striked, it can happen in one proceeding for subsequent offenses. Felonies that will not qualify as "strikes" under this law are robberies where no weapon or threat of a weapon was used and did not result in death or serious bodily injury, and arson if it did not pose a threat to human life. The law does not apply to crimes committed on Indian reservations. Sentences can be overtumed if a prior conviction which served as the basis for the 3 strikes sentence is overtumed by a state or federal court.
The law allows 3 strike defendants to be released from prison if they meet the following criteria: are at least 70 years old and have served at least 30 continuous years in prison and the director of the BOP determines that the person is not a danger to the community or anyone else.
Computers: The crime bill makes it a misdemeanor to transmit computer viruses that damage or cause damage to any computers, programs or if the person intends that such damage occur. It also allows for civil lawsuits to be filed by the allegedly damaged party against the originator of the virus. For it to be a federal crime the activity must have an interstate commerce nexus, which means that any virus transmitted electronically will qualify as a crime while those implanted at the computer site will not.
"Terrorism": The statute of limitations for "terrorist" crimes was extended to 8 years and the penalties were increased. Counterfeiting US currency abroad was criminalized. A new law criminalizes "Providing material support to terrorists." This is defined as any person in the US who "provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source or ownership of material support or resources knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for or in carrying out a violation" of various criminal offenses or for the concealment and escape of such activities. Material support is defined as: "currency or other financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personel, transportation, and other physical assets, but does not include humanitarian assistance to persons not directly involved in such violations." The law has the potential of being used against the anti imperialist solidarity movement here in the US. The law has a disclaimer that investigations aren't to be initiated based on activities protected by the first amendment. Given past practices where the FBI has investigated and harassed groups like CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) and such, this will have little real life application. After all, who is going to enforce it?
Aliens: The law provides for the prompt deportation of aliens convicted of felonies and speeds up the deportation process for non criminal aliens whose applications for asylum have been denied. It permits the attorney general to grant US citizenship to foreign citizens who are willing to inform on criminals, "terrorists" or otherwise help US "national security." It also increases the penalties for passport and visa violations.
Sex Offender Registration The law orders states to establish the registration of all sex offenders convicted of crimes against minors or who are "sexually violent predators." States must establish a registration system for sex offenders within three years of enactment. While the federal government can't order states to carry out federal mandates, in this case it will withhold 10% of the funds non-complying states would otherwise receive under 1968 Crime Control Act.
Increased Penalties: The crime bill doubles or otherwise increases the penalties for a wide range of offenses, including: theft of artwork, virtually all crimes involving firearms and explosives, hate crimes, civil rights violations, assaults on members of Congress, diplomats, and other federal employees, arson, trafficking in counterfeit goods, introducing non-indigenous species to Hawaii and mailing animals or plants that are illegally taken. It also criminalizes the trade, barter, or sale of the Congressional Medal of Honor
Mandatory Minimums: The last several years have seen a lot of activism and criticism of mandatory minimums. These laws fix a penalty against defendants convicted of possessing specified quantities of drugs or weapons. The result has been long sentences for first time offenders and minor drug offenders. The crime bill allows a judge to disregard a mandatory minimum and go by sentencing guidelines if the defendant meets certain criteria: they don't have more than one criminal history point; did not use violence or threats of violence; the offense did not result in death or injury to any person; the defendant was not an organizer of the offense nor part of a continuing criminal enterprise and at the time of sentencing has "provided to the government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct..." that the defendant has no information to provide can't be used to defeat this section. Unfortunately, the law is not retroactive to persons already convicted. It applies only to sentences imposed on or after the 10th day the law was signed.
Crimes Against Women: Because federal laws only apply to crimes committed on federal property or those where there is an inter-state commerce connection it is unlikely this law will apply to many defendants except for crimes committed on Indian and military reservations, etc. The law makes restitution mandatory for all defendants convicted of a federal sex offense; punishments are to be enhanced by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission; crossing state lines to commit domestic violence is made a federal crime as is interstate violation of a state court protective order. Grants are made to encourage states to develop mandatory arrest policies for those accused of domestic violence.
A section of the law of interest to women prisoners in particular is the "Civil Rights for Women" section. It allows women to sue, in federal court for money damages, "A person (including a person who acts under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation custom, or usage of any state) who commits a crime of violence motivated by gender and thus deprives another of the right declared in subsection (b) [that is the right to be free from gender motivated crimes of violence] shall be liable to the party injured, in an action for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief . " It also authorizes attorney fees for prevailing plaintiffs. A female plaintiff can sue under this act whether or not the act resulted in criminal charges. Specifically exempted are "random acts of violence unrelated to gender."
Grants are provided to train and educate court personnel in state and federal courts in gender related issues such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc.
Money is also allocated creating a federal database of stalker and domestic violence defendants. Funds will also go to battered women's shelters, domestic violence programs, etc.
Evidentiary Rules: The Federal rules of evidence, which govern the admissibility and use of evidence in federal civil and criminal proceedings, have been amended and added to. Rule 412 was modified to ban the introduction of evidence, in cases involving sexual misconduct, of the alleged victim's sexual predisposition and other sexual behavior. Rule 413 is created which allows evidence to be introduced against defendants in sex offense cases concerning the defendant's commission of other sex offenses, whether or not the alleged offense resulted in any criminal charges or a conviction. In other words, this will allow virtually any type of allegation to be made against a certain class of defendants even if they were never charged, much less convicted of the offense. Rule 414 does the same for crimes involving child molestation whether they are civil or criminal cases.
Children: The law increases the penalties for crimes committed by children and youths. It also requires that juveniles of 16 and 17 be tried as adults if they commit violent offenses. It also makes membership in a "criminal street gang" a federal offense and increases the penalties for crimes allegedly committed as part of such gang activity. It is readily apparent that the provisions of this law will fall mainly on minority youth.
Death Penalty: The federal death penalty is expanded to include about 60 new offenses punishable by death. While many commentators in the mainstream media have stated that this law will have little effect on crime or defendants, that is not the case. It substantially widens the death penalty net to sweep a wide variety of crimes, many of which are already state offenses, into its grasp. The result is going to be felt mainly by minorities when federal prosecutors decide which cases to prosecute rather than allow states to deal with [See PLN, Vol.5, No 6, on the racist application of the current federal death penalty statutes.]
The statute codifies the balancing test approved by the supreme court as to when the death penalty shall actually be imposed. It sets out the mitigating and aggravating factors that are to be weighed, and requires notice and a special hearing as to when the death penalty will be sought against a defendant. Special findings of fact by the fact finder are required once a death penalty verdict is returned. This will assist in appellate review of the sentence. The law provides for appellate court review and states death sentences can't be reversed if any error is harmless, including the findings of aggravating factors. While most state death penalties require automatic state supreme court review, the federal law requires no such review by the US supreme court. The marshals service is designated to carry out the death sentences imposed by the federal courts and will use the means of execution used in the state of conviction. If that state doesn't have the death penalty the court will pick a state that does. It also allows the use of state death row facilities even though PLN, Vol. 5. No. 2. reported that the BOP is building its own death row at the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, IN.
Since the supreme court authorized the use of the death penalty in 1976 it has held that it can only be applied in cases which involve the actual loss of life. The federal death penalty statute goes beyond this and is likely unconstitutional because it permits the death penalty against defendants convicted of drug trafficking as part of a continuing criminal enterprise, regardless of whether any loss of life has occurred. The law specifically exempts Native Americans if the sole federal jurisdiction is that the offense occurs on Indian Reservations. It also states that the mentally retarded and pregnant women can't be executed.
The offenses for which the death penalty is authorized for now are: murder by federal prisoners serving life sentences; for civil rights murders; murder of federal law enforcement officials; drive by shootings; foreign murders of US nationals; rape and child molestation murders; sexual abuse resulting in death; murder by escaped prisoners; sexual exploitation of children resulting in death; murders with firearms in federal facilities (look out postal workers!); murder of state law enforcement officials assisting federal officials; murder of persons aiding federal investigations; killing federal witnesses; violence against maritime navigation if death results, violence against fixed maritime platforms [in what should be called the "teamster amendment" the law specifically bars federal prosecution if the death on a fixed maritime platform occurs "during or in relation to a labor dispute."], violence at international airports resulting in death (unless it is part of a labor dispute); use of weapons of mass destruction if death results (i.e. poison gas, biological or atomic weapons); alien smuggling if death results; espionage even if no death results, killing foreign officials; kidnapping; wrecking trains; robbing banks; hostage taking; murder for hire; racketeering; genocide; car jacking; air piracy; murder with explosives, mail bombings and dangerous devices; retaliatory killing of informants and witnesses; killing of court officers and jurors and first degree murder.
Many people laughed stating that the death penalty is now authorized for killing poultry inspectors. That is true, and not many people kill poultry inspectors. But it is readily apparent that the federal government is now going to get into the killing business in a big way. Efforts to ban the execution of juveniles were voted down and not included in the law.
The Racial Justice Act (RJA) has been introduced in congress every year since 1988. It would allow death penalty defendants to introduce evidence showing that the death penalty had been administered in a racially biased manner by introducing into evidence statistics as to how the death penalty is applied. In McLeskey v. Zant the supreme court rejected the use of statistics to show racial bias in the death penalty, the RJA would nullify that ruling. As reported in PLN, Vol. 5, No.9, extensive evidence exists showing that the death penalty is administered in a racially biased manner. In opposing the RJA Senator Orinn Hatch said "It would end the death penalty as we know it." Why the fear of the RJA? After all, similar statistics are used in court everyday in discrimination cases. Because death penalty advocates can't "explain" why black men, who constitute about 5% of the US population make up some 40% of the nation's death row population. Or why five out of the six defendants convicted under the federal death penalty law of 1988 are black and the remaining one is Hispanic. Could it be racism? Well, death penalty defendants aren't going to be given that chance to prove that it is because, while approved by the house of representatives, it was again voted down by the senate. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus initially tried to pressure Clinton into pushing for the RJA but eventually they capitulated as Clinton said he didn't want the RJA to "hold up" the crime bill.
Firearms: The only thing that came close to halting passage of the crime bill was the inclusion of the ban on "assault weapons" which was opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). The provisions were included and the whole bill squeaked by the senate and house. The law bans "assault weapons" and magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. The law lists 19 weapons by name (all model of Kalishnikov rifle, Uzi and Galil rifles; Beretta AR-70 rifle, Fabrique National FAL, LAR and FNC rifles, Steyr AUG rifle rifle, SWD M-10, M-l1, M-l1/9 and M-12 pistols, Intratec Tec-9, TEC-22 and TEC-DC9 pistols; Colt AR-15 rifle and the Street Sweeper and Striker 12 shotguns;) but the law will also ban about 184 weapons that are copies or similar to the above weapons. It defines and bans "assault weapons" as being those with detachable magazines which have two or more features such as folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mount, flash suppresser, is a semi-automatic version of an automatic weapon or weighs more than 50 ounces. 650 named weapons are exempted from the ban but they do not meet any of the above definitions and are almost entirely sporting or target weapons.
One of the interesting provisions of the gun law is that it too has a sunset provision, it is automatically repealed within 10 years of enactment. The law also orders the attorney general to conduct a study to determine what effect, if any, this law has on violent and drug trafficking crime. The weapons ban applies only to weapons made or imported in the future, those already manufactured or imported are legal and can be sold or owned. Likewise for magazines. All large capacity magazines produced after the act went into effect must have a serial number, those without a serial number are presumed produced before the ban and thus are legal. An article by NRA activist and lobbyist Neal Knox stated that before the law went into effect a five year supply of the banned weapons and at least a 10 year supply of banned magazines were produced or imported. Thus, the law's only effect is going to be to increase the price of the items rather than limit their availability.
Now that the crime bill has passed in time for the mid-term elections we can wait until the next election for yet another crime bill to be passed. It is important to bear in mind that this bill only pertains to the fedeal government. On the state and local level similar laws are being passed for much the same reasons by the same opportunist politicians. The goal and effects remain the same: criminalize poverty and then give out harsh punishment for it.
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