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Proposed bill would federalize offense of assault on officers - II

Last week, our blog examined some of the specifics of the Back the Blue Act, which, if passed, would establish a new federal crime prohibiting the assault of federal judges, federal law enforcement officers and "federally funded public safety officers."

Furthermore, we discussed how the bill, recently introduced by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), has drawn the ire of many critics who are arguing that it is both overly broad and wholly unnecessary.

The bill is overly broad

Critics argue that the assault provisions of the Back the Blue Act, as currently written, are far too broad, such that a large number of people whose underlying offense is relatively innocuous could potentially find themselves in very real trouble.

"These assault pieces are very vague and could potentially bring in thousands of people who are in an altercation with a police officer and give them a little scratch on their arm," said one analyst with the Sentencing Project.

If this seems hard to believe, consider that one provision of the legislation dealing with assaults against law enforcement resulting in bodily injury calls for a mandatory minimum of two years, and that bodily injury is defined to include cuts, physician pain and "any other injury to the body, no matter how temporary."

While it's easy to see how this reality coupled with the expansive definition of a "federally funded public safety officer" -- police officers, jailers, probation officers or parole officers who work for agencies receiving federal financial assistance -- could prove problematic on an individual level, critics are also concerned about scenarios like the mass protests occurring regularly in major cities across the nation.

Here, it's not inconceivable, they argue, for people looking to do nothing more than voice their concerns being swept up by police and wrongly accused of assault in the event the crowd becomes unruly.

"One of the issues with mandatory minimums is their arbitrary nature -- they don't give any attention to particulars or the case or discretion to judges," she says. "They end up bringing people into the system who otherwise wouldn't be there and keeping them far longer than needed," said the analyst.  

The bill is unnecessary

Another compelling argument against the Back the Blue Act being advanced by critics is that it's entirely unnecessary.

Specifically, they point out that not only do the states have their own laws on the books for these types of crimes, but so too does the federal government.

For example, those convicted of assaulting a federal officer can currently be sentenced to up to eight years in federal prison, or 20 years if an injury or weapon is involved. In 2014 alone over 1,400 of these cases were brought resulting in several hundred convictions, while just this past March a Nebraska man was sentenced to two years in federal prison for spitting on a federal law enforcement official.  

It remains to be seen whether the Back the Blue Act will gain the necessary legislative traction given these very important concerns. Stay tuned for any updates …   

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you are under investigation or have been charged with any manner of federal crime, as the stakes are simply too high.

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