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Attempted murder isn’t good enough for him

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, the man accused of shooting at the White House, will be charged with attempting to assassinate the president or a member of his staff, says CNN.

This comes as a bit of a surprise to me, since I had assumed that blasting away at people of whatever station was pretty well-covered by attempted-murder laws, but there it is: 18 USC Sec. 1751, PRESIDENTIAL AND PRESIDENTIAL STAFF ASSASSINATION, KIDNAPPING, AND ASSAULT. It’s a statute that seems to pretty much take all the pre-existing legal definitions and penalties for unprovokedly killing, snatching or stomping people, and restate them for the special cases of the president, veep and the busy bees swarming around them. The penalties seem to be the same for the run-of-the-mill versions of murder, kidnapping and assault — even referring directly to the generic murder penalties in the case of assassination. That’s not much of a surprise, since the U.S. Constitution doesn’t really allow much latitude for penalties beyond “death or by imprisonment for life.”

In Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s case, the operative penalty would appear to be “imprisonment for any term of years or for life.”

So, the question then is … Why? I mean, murder is already illegal. So is attempted murder. The penalty is already set at the allowable maximum. So why create a new law to address circumstances covered under an old law, and impose penalties that are already in place?

The answer is clear, and depressing. The law exists merely to separate the leaders from the proles. Kill one of the herd, and you’re a mere murderer. Kill el jefe, and you get charged under a special law as an assassin, because the generic law isn’t good enough to cover acts against the leadership. A different law must be created to cover what is officially viewed as a different class of crime, not because of the act, but because of the elevated status of the victim.

I’m absolutely certain that the penalties would have been jacked up if they weren’t already set at the maximum, as they have been at the state level for police officers (where a victim’s status as a law-enforcement officer is generally considered an aggravating circumstance during sentencing), and even police dogs.

Theoretically, I imagine that Ortega-Hernandez could be charged under both the attempted murder and assassination laws, and punished independently for the same act. Especially if the attempted-murder law of the separate jurisdiction of D.C. are brought into play.

You have to love our fearless leaders, They’re so important that they need to be protected by a special category of laws kept untainted by our own grubby statutes.

Posted in Awful Officials


  • As long as you have multiple “laws” covering the same act, you can keep trying until you get a conviction without worrying too much about those pesky laws against “double jeopardy”.

    Also, I suspect that the burden of proof is in actuality much lower when you are accused of trying to kill a tax parasite. Because of the “seriousness” [sic] of the “crime”.

  • That’s one reason for the law, but there’s another.

    The vanilla murder and mayhem laws are creatures of STATE jurisdiction. Unless the federal government creates a separate FEDERAL law, they can’t prosecute the incident in THEIR courts, but are at the mercy of whatever state the incident happened in.

    For example, if Bush had been making a speech and somebody there threw a shoe at him, how likely would he be to get “justice” from a jury of socialist hippies in San Francisco, as opposed to a jury of cowboy “patriots” in San Antonio?

    Plus, of course, they get to prosecute the same guy twice for the same incident if the first trail doesn’t go the “right” way (see Stacey Kooons).

    Of course the argument here is still elitist, because our federal “masters” want to make sure they don’t suffer the same inequities in the justice system that any of us would have to suffer.

  • Henry,

    Your point about murder, etc., being state crimes was originally true, but there is now a federal crime of murder. 18 USC Sec. 1111 defines the penalties for the same. There is a lot of overlap between state and federal law, now, which is why defendants who beat state/federal charges often find themselves facing identical federal/state charges. Goodbye, double jeopardy!

  • I should add, the U.S. Code cited above applies to “the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” but that certainly covers the White House.

  • It would all make sense if the penalties were less or there was a reward.

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