News Release

U.S. Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle NE
Washington, DC 20002-8002

For Immediate Release:
March 22, 2004

Contact: Michael Courlander
Public Affairs Officer
(202) 502-4597


Commission Also Increases Penalties for Body Armor and Other Offenses

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 22, 2004) – At its March 19 public meeting, the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to adopt sentencing guideline amendments that will significantly increase sentences for all offenses involving bribery of or gratuities to public officials. The Commission voted to amend the guidelines to provide heightened penalties based on whether the defendant was an elected public official, a public official, or a non-public official. The Commission expects that the average sentence for a public official who takes a bribe will increase by more than 50 percent, with the prospect of a much greater increase.

The Commission’s proposed amendment also provides enhancements to address some of the aggravating factors that may occur in public corruption cases. For example, the Commission, following a request of the Department of Homeland Security, has included a new sentencing increase that applies particularly to those who patrol the nation’s borders and/or issue immigration or other "identification" documents. This enhancement recognizes the heightened trust held by and the need for absolute loyalty from government officials who perform these tasks in a society afflicted by increased risk from terrorists.

"Public corruption offenses are among the most harmful crimes against the system," said Commission Vice Chair Ruben Castillo. "At a time when the security of our borders is paramount, the Commission wanted to send the strong message to those officials responsible for the security of our borders that any selling of their office would result in serious penalties. We must have zero tolerance for these types of offenses." Commissioner Castillo labeled public corruption offenses as crimes of "internal terrorism" that strike at the heart of our democratic government.

The Commission, also in a unanimous vote, more than tripled the prison time for individuals possessing certain destructive devices, such as shoulder-fired missiles, rockets, and launchers.

"There is no good reason for anyone to ever possess such a device," said Commissioner Castillo. "A person with a rocket launcher most certainly does not have good intentions."

The guideline sentence for possession of these destructive devices, including MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems capable of destroying aircraft), LAWS (light anti-tank weapons) and RPGS (rocket-propelled grenades) has been increased to ten years’ imprisonment, which is the maximum penalty prescribed by law. The possession of these devices has been singled out for the maximum penalty in all cases because of their portability, range, and accuracy. The U.S.- made "Stinger" missile can target aircraft traveling at altitudes of up to approximately 26,000 feet, and the Russian-made SA-7 can target aircraft traveling at up to approximately 16,000 feet.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, shoulder-fired missiles have destroyed 27 civilian fixed-wing aircraft to date.

"We shudder at the thought of a commercial airliner being targeted by one of these devices," said U.S. Sentencing Commissioner Michael E. Horowitz. "The U.S. Sentencing Commission is doing its part to ensure that anyone who even attempts to obtain these dangerous weapons will serve the maximum penalty authorized by Congress."

At the same time, the Commission provided the means for courts to depart above the guidelines for unlawful possession of other destructive devices (such as pipe bombs, grenades, and Molotov cocktails) under circumstances that create a risk to the public. The Commission also voted unanimously to issue a new guideline to take into account 18 U.S.C. § 931, which prohibits violent felons from purchasing, owning, or possessing body armor. The proposed amendment also provides a 50 percent increase in sentence if the defendant used the body armor in connection with a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense.

The Commission also voted unanimously to increase substantially the penalties for other crimes against persons, including second degree murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter involving reckless operation of a vehicle. Significantly, the sentence for second degree murder has been increased from a range of 11 to 14 years, to a range of approximately 20 to 24 years of imprisonment. Responding to a congressional directive in the Federal Judiciary Protection Act of 2002, increases were also made to the aggravated assault guideline and the official victim enhancement to account for assaults on official victims.

The new amendments to the sentencing guidelines will be submitted to Congress by May 1, 2004, and will take effect November 1, 2004, pending an 180-day period of congressional review.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines, which went into effect November 1, 1987, structure the courts’ sentencing discretion to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive a similar sentence. The Commission has ongoing responsibility to monitor and amend the guidelines.

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