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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 Criminal Section prosecutes violations of the following statutes

Updated November 7, 2023