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What to Know About Federal Crimes

Remember the armed militiamen who took over an Oregon wildlife refuge for 41 days in January and February 2016 to protest the government’s management of federal lands?

Ammon Bundy was the leader of the protest; he led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon’s Harney County. As his own attorneys, Mike Arnold and Lissa Casey, wrote in court documents, “Defendant Ammon Bundy organized his fellow citizens in protest of the expansive and unsupported interpretation of the Constitution that purports to allow the federal government to own and control more territory, and exercise jurisdiction over more land in the Western States, than the States themselves.”

Bundy and six of his followers had their first day in court on September 13, 2016, as he and six other men were tried for federal conspiracy.

The words “federal crime” are mysterious and murky enough to strike fear into the hearts of most. The truth is most of us don’t know exactly what particular offenses fall under federal jurisdiction, and we certainly wouldn’t know what to do if we ever found ourselves charged with one.

Some of the offenses that fall into the “federal crimes” category include: arson, aircraft hijacking, kidnapping, bank robbery, child pornography, smuggling of wildlife and plants and abuse of living non-human beings, obscenity, assault, health care fraud, illegal gambling, murder, rape, tax evasion, counterfeiting, violation of the Espionage Act, wiretapping, art theft from a museum, damaging public mailboxes, immigration offenses, and assassinating the President or Vice President. (Interestingly, assassinating the President only became a federal crime relatively recently – after President Kennedy was shot.)

Bundy’s case clearly falls under federal jurisdiction, as he committed a crime (unlawful occupation of a government building) on federal land (a national wildlife refuge). He is also no stranger to breaking federal laws, as he is the son of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was the central figure of the “2014 Bundy standoff” in Nevada regarding unpaid grazing fees on federally-owned public land. (Cliven Bundy and his sons also face federal charges in Nevada.) Given his public and prominent protests, he and his family had already done their work to find an experienced federal crimes defense attorney, and likely have their defense attorneys on speed-dial.

Because federal crimes are illegal under federal legislation, they are only ever prosecuted by the government, usually through the United States Attorney’s office. For the same reasons, lawyers who are able and eligible to practice in federal courts are a select group. Not every attorney is allowed to do so.

While some of these federal offenses are extraordinary and not likely something most of us would do in our lifetimes, some are more easily committed by mistake. Imagine if your twelve-year-old son and his friends were horsing around one day and mistakenly damaged a public mailbox. Or they were playing with matches and burnt down a building – mistakes that turn severe, very quickly. In the blink of an eye, lives could change. Who would you call to help protect your child and family?

Only an attorney who is trusted, knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced with arguing cases in federal courts would do. Because when it comes to moments in life when everything can change in an instant, you need to have the best team on your side.

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