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White House Fact Sheet on Combating Violent Crime

May 15, 1989

The President outlined today a comprehensive program to combat violent crime. The program is designed to strengthen the Nation's criminal justice system and the Federal, State, and local law enforcement partnership. The program is grounded in the President's belief that greater certainty of apprehension, prosecution, and punishment will help deter crimes of violence. It includes proposals to strengthen current Federal, State, and local laws, to step up enforcement and to hold perpetrators of crimes fully accountable for their actions.

The President is proposing a commonsense approach to crime with initiatives to limit access to weapons by criminals, to reform the criminal justice system, to enhance enforcement and prosecution, and to expand prison capacity to ensure both the certainty and severity of punishment.

Fundamental Principles

Four principles underlie the goals of our criminal justice system and the means for accomplishing them.

A primary purpose of government is to protect citizens and their property. Americans deserve to live in a society in which they are safe and feel secure.

Those who commit violent criminal offenses should, and must, be held accountable for their actions.

Our criminal justice system must have as its objective the swift and certain apprehension, prosecution, and incarceration of those who break the law.

Success in accomplishing our criminal justice system goals requires a sustained, cooperative effort by Federal, State, and local law enforcement authorities.

The President today proposed a comprehensive four-part program to strengthen current laws, enhance enforcement and apprehension of criminals, facilitate prosecutions, and expand Federal prison capacity.

Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1989

I. Strengthening Current Laws

To ensure that those who commit violent criminal offenses are held fully accountable for their actions, it is essential to eliminate certain gaps in existing law and to strengthen some existing statutes.

A. Enhanced Penalties for Firearms Violations

The President proposed seven changes in Federal firearms laws which would:

1. double the mandatory penalty from 5 to 10 years under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for the use of a semiautomatic firearm during the commission of a violent crime or drug felony;

2. amend the Armed Career Criminal statute to count as predicate offenses acts of juvenile delinquency which if committed by an adult would constitute a serious drug offense; many youthful repeat offenders now escape the enhanced career criminal penalties because most of their prior offenses were charged as juvenile delinquency;

3. allow for pretrial preventive detention of defendants in cases involving certain serious Federal firearms and explosive offenses;

4. authorize criminal penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for theft of a firearm;

5. enhance penalties for smuggling firearms into the United States while engaged in, or in the furtherance of, drug trafficking;

6. require mandatory revocation of Federal supervised release for those possessing a firearm anytime before the term of their supervised release expires;

7. double the current penalty for a knowing and materially false statement on ATF Form 4473 to a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

The President also urged all States to adopt model legislation providing mandatory minimum sentences for criminal offenses involving firearms to parallel Federal mandatory minimum provisions.

He directed the Attorney General to provide the States with related technical assistance through the Law Enforcement Coordinating Committees (LECC's). At present, 30 States have some provision for mandatory terms of imprisonment for use of firearms in the commission of a crime.

The President proposed providing a 5-percent bonus to the formula portion of drug law enforcement grants for those States which adopt this model legislation.

B. Restricting Plea Bargaining

If our criminal justice system is to achieve its objective of ensuring that those who commit violent firearms offenses are held fully accountable for their actions, plea bargaining practices nationwide must be reformed. Too often, serious felons walk away from court after pleading guilty to minor offenses and misdemeanors because overburdened prosecutors have accepted plea agreements rather than going to trial. The lesser charges result in lesser sentences or probation, and repeat offenders continue to beat the system. To speed an end to such plea bargaining:

1. The President directed the Attorney General to issue and fully implement guidelines for Federal prosecutors regarding plea bargaining under the Sentencing Reform Act to ensure that Federal charges always reflect both the seriousness of the defendant's conduct and the Department's commitment to statutory sentencing goals and procedures. This will ensure that Federal prosecutors seek minimum mandatory penalties for all violent firearms offenses.

2. The President urged State and local governments to reform their plea bargaining and sentencing practices along similar lines and to devote increased resources to prosecutions.

C. Enacting Death Penalty Procedures

The criminal justice system must accord paramount importance to the protection of innocent life. The murderous assault-weapon-armed gang member, the terrorist, the traitor, and the assassin, who threaten American lives and the Nation's security, must know that they will face the death penalty for their crimes.

The President proposed to restore an enforceable death penalty for the most aggravated Federal crimes. His proposal includes adequate standards and constitutionally sound procedures for applying the Federal death penalty provisions that now appear in Federal statutes for homicide, espionage, and treason. It would also authorize the death penalty for a number of new offenses, such as murder for hire. In direct response to the increase in firearms-related violence, the proposal specifies that the use of a firearm in committing the offense or a previous conviction of a violent felony involving a firearm constitute aggravating factors justifying capital punishment.

D. Restricting Imported Weapons

When the study of imported weapons by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is completed, the administration will make permanent the temporary suspension on the imported weapons, if any, that fail to meet the criteria specified in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (18 U.S.C. 925).

E. Preventing Circumvention of Import Laws

The administration will propose an amendment to ensure that actions taken under the provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 shall not be circumvented by domestic assembly of such weapons or any combination of domestic and foreign assembly of such weapons.

F. Restricting Gun Clips and Magazines

The administration will propose legislation prohibiting the importation, manufacture, transfer, or sale of gun magazines of over 15 rounds for use by private citizens.

G. Limiting Access to Weapons by Criminals

In addition to greater penalties for misusing firearms, it is also important to limit access to weapons by criminals. This can be facilitated in three ways:

1. Strengthening and Expanding Prohibitions on Access to Weapons by Criminals.

a. The President proposed to bar the sale of firearms to, or possession of firearms by, persons convicted of any violent offense, expanding the existing prohibition to cover individuals convicted of violent misdemeanor offenses.

b. The President also proposed to bar the sale of firearms to, or possession of firearms by, persons who are convicted of any serious drug offense.

2. Improving Mechanisms for Identifying Criminals Who Attempt to Purchase Firearms. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 requires the Attorney General to develop a system for the immediate and accurate identification of felons and others who attempt to purchase firearms, but are barred by Federal law [18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)] from buying or possessing firearms. The initial stage of the study must be completed by November 18, 1989.

a. The President directed the Attorney General to expand the National Criminal Records Identification System Implementation study to include a review and evaluation of State and local procedures which have effectively limited criminal access to firearms and, based on that review and in consultation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, to develop recommendations for model State legislation and procedures to complement and enhance efforts to reduce felons' access to firearms.

Model State legislation or procedures might include a reasonably structured waiting period or use other devices to facilitate accuracy in determining whether an individual seeking to purchase a weapon from a licensed gun dealer is ineligible by reason of Federal law. At present, more than 20 States have waiting periods, identification requirements, or other procedures which effectively limit criminal access to weapons.

b. The President urged States to transfer criminal history conviction, sentencing, and other case disposition records to the proper Federal authorities. He also directed the Attorney General to recommend additional improvements in the criminal records data system. The quality of criminal history data is a critical factor in crime control and prevention. At present, the only criminal history records consistently reported by States and localities are arrest records.

Timely and accurate reporting of conviction, sentencing, and other case disposition records is essential to the effective operation of the Nation's criminal justice system.

To improve the national data base, States should make such criminal record reporting mandatory and take steps to ensure that centralized State criminal history repositories are adequately funded and managed. In addition, States should maintain records and report on all serious crimes committed by juveniles, who frequently continue their criminal careers into adulthood but often escape early identification as repeat offenders and recidivists because their juvenile records are not reported.

3. Eliminating Loopholes and Clarifying Existing Offenses. The President also proposed to eliminate loopholes and clarify existing offenses related to the sale or transfer of firearms, in order to:

a. facilitate the prosecution of unlicensed gun dealers engaged in illegal weapons transfers to aliens or transients;

b. expand Federal jurisdiction to permit prosecution of transactions in stolen firearms and weapons lacking serial numbers in cases where the firearms have previously moved in interstate or foreign commerce (present law requires the firearms be moving in interstate commerce at the time of the offense);

c. provide a uniform standard to determine whether a person is under Federal firearms disabilities based upon State convictions;

d. require that persons convicted under State law of a serious drug offense or violent felony apply to Federal authorities in order to have their firearms rights restored;

e. amend provisions regarding the disposal of forfeited firearms; and

f. clarify the definition of burglary in the Armed Career Criminal Act to eliminate loopholes caused by differing State laws.

H. Making Drug Testing a Condition of Release

The President also proposed to authorize and fund nationwide implementation in 1990 of drug testing as a mandatory condition of Federal probation, parole, or supervised release. It is estimated that 81,500 people will be on some form of Federal supervised release in 1990. The Justice Department and the Federal Judiciary will coordinate implementation of this program.

The President urged States to adopt similar mandatory drug testing programs as a condition of parole.

II. Augmenting Enforcement

A primary purpose of government is to protect citizens and their property. This requires the sustained cooperative commitment of Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials. Apprehending violent offenders requires increased enforcement personnel, improved cooperation among law enforcement authorities, and not permitting the exclusion of evidence on legal technicalities.

A. Additional ATF Special Agents

The President proposed to increase funds for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to provide for the hiring, training, and equipping of 375 ATF special agents, inspectors, and support personnel to investigate assault weapon and other firearms violations by armed career criminal and repeat offenders.

B. Additional U.S. Marshals

The President proposed to increase funds for the U.S. Marshals to provide for about 150 additional positions for the Marshals Fugitive Investigations and Court Orders Program. This would direct greater Federal efforts to capturing fugitives and career criminals.

C. Additional FBI Agents

The President proposed to increase funds for the FBI to provide for about 300 additional positions for the Bureau's Violent Crime and Major Offenders Program and Organized Crime Program and to assist States and localities to improve their efforts in fighting violent crime through greater Federal/State cooperation.

D. Coordinated Task Forces

The President directed the Attorney General and Secretary of the Treasury to develop a coordinated strategy for the deployment of the additional U.S. Marshals, ATF and FBI agents. Their deployment will emphasize working closely with State and local authorities in task forces to target and investigate career criminals who are subject to prosecution as repeat offenders under Federal firearms laws and related statutes.

E. State and Local Resources

The President urged State and local authorities to increase their law enforcement resources devoted to identifying and apprehending violent criminal offenders.

F. Exclusionary Rule Reform

The President proposed to establish a general "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule which would permit evidence to be admitted if the officers carrying out a search or seizure acted with an objectively reasonable belief that their conduct was in conformity with fourth amendment requirements. The reform legislation would clarify that, in the absence of explicit statutory authority for doing so, Federal courts may only exclude evidence on the basis of constitutional violations.

III. Enhancing Prosecution

In order to assure that criminals are held accountable for their offenses, certainty of prosecution must accompany severity of punishment. Federal, State, and local authorities must expand and coordinate their prosecutorial efforts.

A. Additional Assistant U.S. Attorneys

The President proposed to increase funds for the U.S. Attorneys Offices to support 1,600 additional positions to handle the increased number of Federal defendants and to prosecute more drug cases, weapons offenses, and other priority matters.

B. Additional Criminal Division Attorneys

The President proposed to increase funds for the Justice Department Criminal Division to support 168 additional positions to focus on drug cases, weapons offenses, and other priority matters, including activities to foster State and local cooperation and coordinated law enforcement strategies.

C. Additional Housing for Unsentenced Prisoners

The President proposed additional funds for the U.S. Marshals Service to provide transportation and 300,000 added jail days for unsentenced prisoners and pretrial detainees.

D. Additional Judicial Branch Resources

The President proposed increasing the administration's budget request for the Judiciary by $40 million for FY 1990 to cover costs associated with processing increased numbers of criminal defendants and for additional Federal criminal prosecutions.

E. Habeas Corpus Reform

The President proposed immediate enactment of habeas corpus reform to establish a general 1-year time limit on Federal applications by State prisoners and to require deference in Federal proceedings to the results of fair and reasonable State court determinations. This will correct the existing system of review, under which over 10,000 cases are annually filed in Federal court.

IV. Expanding Prison Capacity

Prison overcrowding remains a national problem. The most acute problem is at the Federal level. At both the Federal and State level prison overcrowding is a factor in sentencing. At the State and local levels it is often responsible for the early release of convicted criminals.

A. Expanding Federal Prison Construction

The President proposed an additional $1 billion for Federal prison construction, bringing the total 1990 budget to over $1.5 billion. This will increase prison capacity by about 77 percent, adding over 24,000 new Federal prison beds. The present rated Federal prison capacity is 30,951 beds; the present Federal prison population is approximately 48,000.

B. Converting Unused Federal Properties

The President directed the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Education, and the Administrator of the General Services Administration to work with the Attorney General to identify expeditiously properties and facilities suitable for conversion for use as Federal prisons or jails.

C. Deporting Criminal Aliens

The President proposed to provide the Attorney General with $14 million for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review in order to expedite the deportation of convicted criminal aliens.

Crimes committed by aliens are rising disproportionately in relation to the general population and entailing more violent and drug-related crime.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has identified 9,254 aliens in its facilities, 20.6 percent of its total inmate population.

D. Encouraging State Prison Construction

The President commended and encouraged State prison construction efforts. States currently have construction of 63,452 new bedspaces underway. An additional 78,094 bedspaces are planned, and funding has been secured for their construction. Moreover, States have requested construction of 72,190 additional bedspaces.

E. Review of Court-Ordered Prison Caps

The President directed the Attorney General to conduct a review of the role of court orders and consent decrees in prison crowding situations, including an assessment of the scope of judicial authority in formulating and issuing such orders, the impact of such orders on the operation of prison systems and public security, and nonjudicial means of addressing prison crowding. The Attorney General will report his findings to the President and recommend any necessary remedial actions.

Legislation to implement elements of this initiative will be transmitted

(TABLE START)shortly by the Attorney General.





BATF .... $18.8 million

U.S. Marshals .... $12.0 million

FBI .... $19.5 million


U.S. Attorneys .... $49.6 million

Criminal Division .... $5.4 million

Unsentenced Prisoner Support .... $13.0 million

Courts .... $40.0 million

Drug Testing:

Mandatory Testing .... $10.7 million

Criminal Alien Deporta- tion:

INS .... $12.5 million

EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review) .... $1.6 million

State Grant Bonus:

Office of Justice Programs (Bonus) .... $6.0 million@rn,s

Subtotal (nonprison) .... $189.1 million


Federal Prison Construction .... $1.0 billion@s1

This will bring the total 1990 prison construction budget to over $1.5 billion, which includes $115 million available from the Special Forfeiture Fund available to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and $401 million in the original Bush Budget.@s0

Total Increase .... 1 $1,189.1 billion


Note: 1 This total can be accommodated within the overall domestic discretionary spending cap set in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement.


George Bush, White House Fact Sheet on Combating Violent Crime Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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