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Damaging Religious Property

Those who are charged under federal law with damaging religious property face serious consequences, including fines and jail time. To ensure that you are not convicted of a crime that you didn’t commit, please contact an experienced federal crime lawyer who may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed.

Being Charged with a Federal Offense

Most crimes are prosecuted at the state level, so many Florida residents may assume that this applies to cases involving property destruction. While this is true in regards to most buildings, damage done to a religious structure falls under the purview of federal law, which can have much more serious consequences for defendants, as federal crimes tend to be much more aggressively prosecuted and to lead to more severe sentences than their state counterparts. For instance, defendants who are convicted of damaging a religious institution face imprisonment for up to a year, although the penalties will be enhanced if anyone was injured during the commission of the offense.

The Elements of the Offense

Under federal law, anyone who intentionally damages, defaces, or otherwise destroys any religious property or attempts to do so can be fined and sentenced to up to a year in prison. However, a defendant can only be convicted of this offense if a prosecutor can prove that the damage was inflicted purely because of the religious character of the property and that the offense took place in or affected interstate commerce. The property in question must also fall under the law’s definition of “religious real property,” which includes churches, mosques, synagogues, religious cemeteries, or other religious real property, as well as fixtures and religious objects if they are contained within a place of worship.

Potential Penalties

A violation of this law is usually considered a misdemeanor, although it can be enhanced to a felony if prosecutors can prove that one of the following statutory aggravating factors exist:

  • Bodily injury;
  • The use of a dangerous weapon;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Aggravated sexual abuse;
  • Death; or
  • Attempted murder.

Only in these cases can prosecutors seek a sentence of more than a year in prison. For example, if a defendant is accused of using, attempting to use, or threatening to use a dangerous weapon during the commission of the offense, he or she could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. This is also true if a defendant used explosives or fire to damage the structure in question.

Limitations

It is important to note that a person cannot be prosecuted for this offense without written certification from the Attorney General, stating that prosecution is not only in the public interest, but is also necessary to secure justice. Finally, defendants cannot be prosecuted or punished for this crime unless they are charged within seven years of the date of the alleged offense.

Call Today to Learn More About Your Charges

If you have been accused of defacing or damaging religious property, you may be facing federal charges, making it especially important for you to contact an attorney who can help explain your legal rights. Please call dedicated Miami federal crime lawyer Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. at (305) 670-9919 to learn more.

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