Federal Assassination Law

The shooting of Judge Roll and Congresswoman Giffords raises an interesting point about federal jurisdiction.  It seems obvious that this attack would be a federal crime, but that is a recent development.  Until the 1960s, the assassination of a federal official was treated as ordinary state-law murder unless it happened in Washington DC or in a federal territory. The most famous example is Lee Harvey Oswald.  Killing the President in Texas was not a federal offense in 1963, just as it wasn’t in 1901 when Leon Czolgolz shot William McKinley in Buffalo and was convicted of murder in New York.  Indeed, this is why Oswald was being held in the local Dallas jail that made it so easy for Jack Ruby to do what he did.

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4 Responses

  1. I blogged just this question last night. http://joshblackman.com/blog/?p=5881 Thanks for the reply!

  2. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Great minds think alike! I hadn’t seen your blog since I got back from AALS.

  3. Veracitor says:

    (1) State laws against murder (etc.) are hardly weak reeds.

    (2) It’s actually rather obnoxious and un-American for Congress to prescribe special penalties for crimes against high Federal officials. In the U.S. everyone is supposed to be equal under the law coming and going. Federal officials’ lives are NOT “worth more” (morally) than the lives of ordinary good citizens. (I realize that the lives of highly-paid Federal officials are worth more than those of lowly private-sector workers in civil suits by relatives for money damages.) Special statutory solicitude for high officials may not be unconstitutional, but it is disgusting.

    (3) Oswald might well have been held initially in a local jail even if he’d been arrested on Federal charges. It’s quite common for new Federal arrestees to be held in local jails, since the US Marshal doesn’t keep a Federal hoosegow in every town.

  4. And rightly so, there isn’t any Constitutional delegation of power for the federal government to exercise general police power, (Outlawing crimes such as murder…) outside of federal territories purchased with the permission of state governments. Outside of such territories, such crimes ARE a state matter, properly.

    It somehow doesn’t count if your murderer is tried, convicted, and executed, by a state government?