News Release

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

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, March 25, 2002

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


WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 25) – At its March 20, 2002, public meeting, the United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted to amend the federal sentencing guidelines to provide increased punishment for crimes against the nation’s cultural heritage (e.g., vandalizing the Vietnam Memorial, stealing a Native American ceremonial mask, destroying the Liberty Bell). For the past two years, the Commission had been considering guideline changes that would provide (1) greater guidance to judges in evaluating the harm caused by cultural heritage resource crimes and (2) increased punishment for these offenses. Said Commission Chair, Judge Diana E. Murphy, "The events of September 11th have underscored the importance of the symbols of our nation’s heritage and culture. The promulgation of a separate guideline for cultural heritage resource crimes is the Commission’s way of increasing this awareness and helping to preserve these treasures."

The Sentencing Commission undertook consideration of this matter in response to concerns that the current guidelines inadequately address the unique harms caused by cultural heritage resource crimes. These concerns had been expressed by many Native American tribes and communities, the Departments of Justice and Interior, the Society of American Archaeology, and the American Association of Museums, among others. Cultural heritage resource crimes are fundamentally different from general property crimes, in which the primary harm typically is pecuniary in nature. While cultural heritage crimes often involve pecuniary harms, they also involve great non-pecuniary, intangible harms. Consequently, the Commission determined that punishment of these crimes should take into account the transcendent and irreplaceable value of cultural heritage resources.

The new guideline passed by the Commission also provides for increased punishment when the crime involves (1) places that are dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage resources and the education of the public or (2) historic and cultural resources specifically protected by federal law. The use of destructive devices or weapons and motives for commercial gain are additional factors that will increase the punishment under the new guideline.

The Commission will submit this proposed guideline to Congress on May 1, 2002, together with other guidelines adopted during the current amendment cycle. The amendments will take effect November 1, 2002, unless Congress passes legislation disapproving them.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines structure the courts’ sentencing discretion to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences. Since nationwide implementation in January 1989, federal judges have sentenced approximately 600,000 defendants under the guidelines.

United States Sentencing Commission: