There is no reason to make a federal crime out of killing cops

Three senators are trying to make killing public safety officers a federal crime. Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, plus North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis have introduced the “Back The Blue Act of 2016,” which basically makes it illegal (not like it isn’t already illegal) to murder a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, judge, etc. and hands down a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison. Anyone who assaults an officer would also be subject to at least a year mandatory minimum, while those who commit serious bodily injury would get ten years behind bars. Cornyn says it can help show politicians have police officers’ backs.

“The one thing we need to do, absolutely, is to come together to show our support for those who get up every morning, put on the badge, and walk out the door, not knowing if they’ll come home at the end of the day. And we can do that by sending a clear message that America will not tolerate those who seek to kill those who are duty-bound to defend us.”

“Under this bill, an offender would be subject to a range of penalties, from a minimum of a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for murder ranging up to the death penalty. I think it’s more important than ever for us to make this kind of clear and unequivocal statement about our support for law enforcement. This is the very glue that holds our country together, and without the safety and security that they provide, none of our other freedoms are really possible.”

“The Back the Blue Act would also expedite court proceedings for cases that involved the death of a public safety officer.”

There are certainly pundits who believe this is a good idea. Jenn Jaques at Bearing Arms seemed surprised it wasn’t already a federal crime and couldn’t “imagine anyone opposing this legislation.” But what’s interesting is even pro-cop pundits aren’t sure it’ll work. The War on Cops author Heather Mac Donald told Christian Science Monitor the bill might not reduce attacks on law enforcement, and would rather have Congress hold hearings to “get the truth out about policing and about crime in the inner city.” University of South Carolina assistant law professor (and former cop) Seth Stoughton also intimated to CSM the mandatory minimum made no sense because almost all convictions for murdering a law enforcement officer are either life in prison or the death penalty.

This is something former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese mentioned in a Federalist Society publication in 1998. He saw it as basically politics (emphasis mine).

When Congress decides that something is politically salient, it decides to pass a law whether it is necessary or not. As our moderator was reeling off the list of federal crimes, most of them if not all of them that he read are and have been handled by state law Church burning, for example, dates back to the common law brought over from England. Arson is one of the earliest common law crimes…

Instead, if there is a carjacking or a rash of carjackings, we suddenly have a federal carjacking law. If there are churches being burned, we suddenly have a federal church burning law. If violence against women is a hot topic, we have a domestic violence against women law, as we have on the books now. Very few people have looked into whether these offenses are actually prosecuted very much, but the statues are on the books, and therefore, they can be prosecuted, usually dependent upon the whim of a United States attorney.

The last point is pretty important because there have been (very rare) cases where a local grand jury has passed on filing charges against someone who killed an officer. Henry Magee was not charged with capital murder in the very red Burleson County, Texas in 2014 because the grand jury didn’t believe there was enough evidence to fit the charges. Magee admitted to killing Burleson County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Sowders but the killing happened during an early morning no-knock raid, and the 28-year-old was trying to defend himself and his pregnant girlfriend. His defense attorney told reporters after the grand jury declined charges, the deputy could have “walked up to his home in the daylight and he would have let him in or they could have stopped him as he left his house.” Under Cornyn, Cruz, and Tillis’ proposal, the DA could have let federal prosecutors handle it, even if there wasn’t enough evidence to support capital murder charges because it appears law enforcement made a mistake which ended in a law enforcement officer’s death. Magee didn’t completely escape justice, as he ended up also facing drug and weapons violations.

There is no reason whatsoever to make killing a police officer a federal crime. FBI stats show they’ve gone down on a pretty steady rate, with spikes here and there. It’s an unpopular sentiment to have following the murder of five Dallas police officers (and last night’s shootout in Baltimore), but what Cornyn, Cruz, and Tillis are trying to do is score brownie points with the law enforcement community. It’s understandable why the three want to do this, but if local prosecutors are already enforcing murder laws when it comes to the murder of police officers, why does the federal government even need to get involved in this? All this will do is waste more taxpayer money which could be used on other things or not even spent at all and returned to the people it was taken from. Let the states handle the issue.

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