Criminal Section Overview

Criminal Section History

One of the oldest of the Civil Rights Division's units, the Criminal Section enforces laws that date to the post Civil War Reconstruction Era. Originally a part of the Criminal Division, the Criminal Section and its enforcement authority was moved to the Civil Rights Division when the CRD was created in 1957. In the early years, the Division was organized geographically. Eventually, as more civil rights laws were passed, the Division reorganized into functional subject areas. The Criminal Section is unique within the Division, prosecuting criminal cases while the remainder of the Division handles civil matters. Some of the Criminal Section's earliest prosecutions involved the murder of minorities and civil rights workers in the South during the 1960's prior to desegregation. In 1968 Congress broadened the scope of protection afforded by civil rights statutes by passing a law that made it a crime to interfere by force or threat of force with certain rights (such as employment, housing, use of public facilities, etc.) because of someone's race, religion, color or national origin.

Those protections were increased even further twenty years later when Congress enacted a law (amended in 1996) making violent conduct against religious property and those exercising their religious beliefs a federal crime. Congress also made it a federal crime in 1994 to use violence to interfere with providers of reproductive health care. The cases handled by the Section have always been of great interest to the public and have sometimes become the subject of films, documentaries, books, and television programs. Some of the historically significant events in which the Criminal Section has been directly involved include investigations of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers, the fatal shootings by the National Guard at Kent State University, the deaths of three civil rights workers (Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner) in Mississippi, and the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. The types of acts that may involve violations of federal criminal civil rights laws are:

Hate Crimes
(18 U.S.C. § 241, 18 U.S.C. § 245, 18 U.S.C. § 249 and 42 U.S.C. § 3631)
Violent and intimidating acts motivated by animus based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

Interference with the Exercise of Religious Beliefs & Destruction of Religious Property (18 U.S.C. § 247)
Violent conduct targeting religious houses of worship, usually involving the arson of churches or synagogues.

Human Trafficking
(18 U.S.C. §§ 1581-1594)
Use of force or threats of force or other forms of coercion to compel labor or services, including commercial sex acts, from victims. Modern day slavery can involve migrant farm laborers, sweat shop workers, domestic servants, and brothel workers. Victims may be U.S. citizens or aliens, or adults or children.

Interference with Access to Reproductive Health Care
(18 U.S.C. § 248)
Violence directed at abortion clinics or health care providers, such as doctors or nurses.

Official Misconduct
(18 U.S.C. § 241, 18 U.S.C. § 242)
Intentional acts by law enforcement officials who misuse their positions to unlawfully deprive individuals of constitutional rights, such as the right to be free from unwarranted assaults, illegal arrests and searches, and theft of property.

Partial Birth Abortion
(18 U.S.C. § 1531)
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 creates a prohibition of partial-birth abortions.

Interference with the Right to Vote
(18 U.S.C. ァ 241, 18 U.S.C. ァ 242, 18 U.S.C. ァ 245, 18 U.S.C. ァ 594 and 42 U.S.C. ァ 1973gg-10(1))
Voter intimidation or voter suppression schemes that target victims on the basis of race, color, national origin, or religion. The punishment imposed by these statutes generally depends upon the injury suffered by the victim. The more serious the injury, the more severe the penalty. In some cases, where the victim had died as a result of the defendant's conduct, the death penalty applies.

Updated August 6, 2015