Here’s the scene. Two men claiming to be a part of an anti-government militia cut down and remove valuable copper communication wire from a railroad utilized by the United States military. Both men do this in an attempt to stop the government from delivering military supplies and classified information to a nearby naval base operated by the U.S. Navy. They are caught in the act, but claim innocence. Is there a crime here?
A federal prosecutor might charge these two men with a crime against the government known as “sabotage.” While you may have heard of the term sabotage from a black and white Alfred Hitchcock movie or in a spy novel, the actual crime of sabotage is broken up into several different crimes as you will see below.
Here you’ll find information on the criminal definition of sabotage, possible penalties, and where to go if you or someone you know has been charged with a federal crime. Remember, sabotage is a major felony and can land you in a federal prison for up to 20 years if found guilty.
The Federal Crime of Sabotage
The general meaning of sabotage is defined as destroying, damaging, or defectively producing property with the specific intent to impede the nation’s ability to prepare for or participate in war and national defense. As you can see from the above example, the two men are actively attempting to stop the military from receiving information related to the national defense. While the men may be doing this as an act of protest, the effect is to thwart the Navy’s ability to communicate.
Looking a little closer at the federal sabotage statute, we can see that sabotage against the government can happen in a variety of ways and with various levels of criminal intent necessary to achieve the crime (specific intent, general intent, or negligence), including:
- Destroying or damaging harbor-defense property;
- Destroying or damaging war material, premises, or utilities;
- Producing defective war materials, premises, or utilities;
- Destroying or damaging national defense material, premises, or utilities; and
- Producing defective national defense material, premises, or utilities
These laws are meant to stop individuals or groups from purposely damaging or producing property relating or belonging to the U.S. government and are felonies with long prison sentences anywhere from five to 20 years, depending on the nature of the offense.
Sabotage “During War”
One of the key components of these laws is that two of the types of sabotage laid out above can only happen during wartime, while the other three can happen in peacetime as well. Additionally, sabotage is different than the federal crime of domestic terrorism because terrorism has to do with acts that are "dangerous to human life" that appear to be intended to:
- Intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
- Influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
- Affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
While we’ve certainly seen acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, sabotage has been more clandestine in our nation’s history. One notable example happened in 1942 during World War II when Nazi saboteurs came to the U.S. in U-boats in an attempt to sabotage the war effort. The Nazis were ordered to attack transport hubs, hydroelectric power plants, and industrial facilities. Specifically, they were ordered to sabotage New York's Pennsylvania station, the city's water supply power plants, bridges, and Jewish-owned department stores. The effort was stopped, however, when one of the men eventually turned himself into the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Sabotage: Related Resources
- Federal vs. State Courts - Key Differences
- Capital Punishment at the Federal Level
- The Basis for a Criminal Appeal
Get Immediate Legal Help With Your Sabotage Charges
Crimes against the government are serious business. While as a nation we all cherish the right to peacefully protest, acts that harm our national security or endanger our citizens are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If you or someone you know has been charged with sabotage or any other federal crime, you’ll want the best possible representation. Speak with a federal criminal defense attorney today to learn more.