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Take The Fear Out Of Federal Terrorism Laws

by | Mar 9, 2023 | Criminal Law

september 11 terrorism 9/11

Terrorism has been a concern in the United States for many years. Starting with the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, lawmakers have paid especial attention to the crime, crafting several federal terrorism statutes in the two decades since. What follows is what you need to know about federal terrorism laws if you should ever find yourself charged with federal terrorism crimes in Florida.

One of the main federal terrorism laws is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001, known colloquially as the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is a pivotal statute as it widened the definition of “terrorism” to include acts of terror carried out within the United States. In section 802 of the Patriot Act, “domestic terrorism” is defined as an act intended to

  • Coerce or intimidate civilians,
  • influence government policy by coercion or intimidation, or
  • affect how government conducts its affairs using assassination, kidnapping, or mass destruction

The acts must also be carried out within the jurisdiction of the United States to fall under the Patriot Act.

More broadly, the federal government considers a terrorist threat to have at least one of the following attributes

A threat must be conveyed to another by word or deed. Body language and innuendo may be considered to convey a threat, not just spoken or written words. Federal courts have applied a “reasonable person” standard to determine whether a threat has been conveyed, which means that a reasonable person must understand the words and/or deeds in question to have conveyed a threat of violence.

A threat must be specific in nature, indicating that death, injury, or major property damage may be carried out. However, it is not necessary to specify a time, place, nor method for the death or destruction to be carried out to meet the criteria.

A threat must be reasonably possible, which is to say the threat must involve something that could actually happen and not something that is impossible or fictitious.

A threat need not make another party feel threatened. Simply making the threat, whether believed or not, is sufficient to meet the criteria.


Although some states have removed the death penalty as an option for a conviction on state laws, there is no such prohibition in the federal system. Sentences for a conviction on federal terrorism charges can be steep indeed and are likely to run for several years or even several decades. And, as there is no provision for parole in the federal system, a conviction on federal terrorism charges means that you are highly likely to spend every day of your prison sentence behind bars, good behavior notwithstanding. For instance, using a weapon of mass destruction to commit a terrorist act can lead to a sentence of between ten years in federal prison and the death penalty.

Statute of Limitations

Under the Patriot Act, for acts of terrorism that result in a foreseeable risk of death or serious bodily injury to another, there is no statute of limitations. In most other cases, the statute of limitations for federal terrorism prosecutions is eight years.


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