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Prosecuting Terror in the Homeland: An Assessment of Sentencing Disparities in United States Federal Terrorism Cases


The most significant terrorist threat to the United States originates from domestic extremist movements, which have steadily increased their violent activities in recent years. While a host of legal statutes were passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to aid in the prosecution international terrorism suspects, the rapid rise in domestic extremism has not led to a similar process of revising the U.S. legal code. Many international terrorism defendants are prosecuted under specific terrorism statutes that are far less often used in cases involving individuals suspected of committing domestic extremist crimes. The application of different laws in international and domestic terrorism cases has led to intense debate over the need for new domestic terrorism legislation. Proponents argue that legal revisions are necessary to promote judicial fairness, address sentencing disparities, and deter individuals from engaging in domestic extremism. Opponents argue that international and domestic terrorism cases can already be prosecuted to a similar extent under the current legal regime, and they suggest that new domestic terrorism laws could be used to infringe on civil rights and liberties.

This research brief contributes to this debate by providing an assessment of the current legal regime as it applies to the prosecution of terrorism in the United States. Using data from the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) project, this brief looks at sentencing disparities in 344 federal terrorism prosecutions that were initiated between 2014-2019. The brief includes sections on the “in/out” decision, case disposition, incarceration length, post-incarceration supervision, and special conditions of probation.

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Full Citation:

Jensen, Michael, Sheehan Kane, and Elena Akers. 2023. Prosecuting Terror in the Homeland: An Assessment of Sentencing Disparities in United States Federal Terrorism Cases. College Park, MD: START.