NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prosecutions of Terrorism-Related Crimes Rises

February 14, 2003

A new study by researchers at Syracuse University reveals that federal officials have sharply increased their prosecutions of terrorism cases -- but often by bringing minor charges that have resulted in jail sentences of only a few months.

  • In the year after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal prosecutions of terror crimes and domestic security cases grew tenfold -- to 1,208 from 115 the previous year.
  • But sentences shrank from a median of nearly two years in 2001 to just two months last year.
  • Most of the cases being prosecuted involve smaller-scale crimes such as document fraud, identification theft, threats and immigration violations.
  • More than 20 federal agencies are referring cases related to terrorism to federal prosecutors -- and the prosecutors have stepped up their efforts to speed them through the courts.

In 2002, such cases were typically disposed of in two months -- compared with about a year in 2001.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said he wants the Justice Department to go after terrorists in the same way Attorney General Robert Kennedy went after the Mafia in the 1960s -- by prosecuting them for the smallest of offenses, even "spitting on the sidewalk."

Source: Eric Lichtblau, "Terror Cases Rise, But Most Are Small-Scale, Study Says," New York Times, February 14, 2003.


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