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New York Proposes Tacking Domestic Terrorism Charges onto Certain Violent Crimes

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In August, New York Governor Cuomo proposed classifying certain types of violent crimes and killings as domestic terrorism. Doing so would increase the penalties for any violence motivated by gender, race, sexual orientation, or other protected class, and make violence committed against these individuals punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole. While legislative language has not yet been circulated, it has been suggested that the bill would cover the death of anyone, as well as the attempted murder of at least two people.

There still is technically no federal crime of domestic terrorism. While Congress has defined the term, it never created an accompanying federal offense like the one that exists for international terrorism. Instead, federal crimes of domestic terrorism have typically been prosecuted under different charges, such as attempting to destroy something in interstate commerce, hate crimes, and conspiracy. While states such as New York have state level laws that define terrorism, those laws tend to measure the act as an attempt to destabilize the public or government. However, if Cuomo‘s proposal comes to fruition, New York’s law would specify that domestic terrorism includes crimes of mass violence committed against people due to their identity.

Growing Concerns Over White Supremacy & Civil Rights Concerns

Cuomo’s concerns are linked to law enforcement’s growing alarms over what they call “homegrown terrorism” from white supremacists that is now as big of a threat as any kind of terrorism from abroad. And while his proposal is expected to win support in the state legislature, a number of civil rights advocates have also raised concerns about potential First Amendment violations; citing to terrorism investigations that have implicated a number of free speech and other civil rights. Others have also pointed to concerns about law-enforcement having very little experience in investigating and prosecuting terrorism cases, which could lead to additional civil rights violations. Even some prosecutors have indicated that prosecuting homicide cases can simply become more complicated in terms of tacking on political terms, such as terrorism.

According to legal experts, the practical nature of Cuomo’s proposal would involve the following: In New York, hate crime laws currently cover second-degree but not first degree murder charges and those convicted of them can qualify for parole. However, it appears that Cuomo’s proposal would close that loophole. Still, this is confusing because New York law also already addresses the crime of murder in the aid of terrorism.

Contact Our New York Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you have been charged with a crime and/or have any civil rights concerns associated with criminal charges or allegations, contact our experienced New York criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy to find out how we can help.

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