It is something that has been on the minds of many Americans for generations, and especially so now, in light of recent tragic events all over the nation and all over the globe: terrorism. This word carries a hefty weight, yet in the eyes of the law, “acts of terrorism” can be very vaguely defined, leaving room for questionable application of the term. In fact, the way that U.S. law defines “terrorism” is so broad that someone who fears the possibility of terrorist acts being perpetrated in his hometown may find himself being accused of such acts himself.

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Terrorism as defined by the USA PATRIOT Act

The USA PATRIOT Act changed the way that terrorism—both at home and abroad—was defined in the eyes of the law. For example, “domestic terrorism” under the Patriot Act and code  18 U.S.C. § 2331 could be any act that:

  • “Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”

This leaves a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to what can be considered an act of domestic terrorism or a terrorist threat.

Does motive matter? Terrorist act vs. hate crime

Charges of terrorism and hate crime can be tacked onto other criminal charges, bringing about the potential for a harsher penalty than if the criminal charge stood alone. Not every place in the U.S. has a separate “hate crime” charge, but for the states that do—motive is the key factor. If a crime is intended to express hate toward a specific group of people (whether people of a certain religion, race or creed, etc.), it can be considered a hate crime. The charge of terrorism can be similar, with one key difference: terrorist acts, by definition, are intended to strike terror into the hearts of those they are directed toward.

How being charged with terrorism can affect you

If you are charged with the crime of terrorism, the USA PATRIOT Act and federal law allow for your property to be seized and your assets to be frozen, which can impact not only you, but your family and those who depend on that property and those assets in their daily lives. You could also face punishment ranging from fines to lengthy incarceration, and could lose your right to travel outside of the country or to vote in elections if you are convicted of a felony.

Seek legal advice right away if you are charged

If you are charged with an act of terrorism or with making a terrorist threat, seek help from an experienced legal professional as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you learn more about your case and what recourse you may have in the eyes of the justice system. Because terrorism is such a serious charge and can bring about severe penalties, it’s important to get legal assistance right away if you are accused of being a terrorist.

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