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Zazi Indicted on WMD Charges:
Here's the report:
  Najibullah Zazi, the Denver man believed to be the central figure in a terror plot against the New York City transit system, has officially been indicted on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States, CBS 2 has learned.
  Zazi was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday in Denver on a count of lying to terrorism investigators. The new charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction was filed in New York City, and authorities plan to transfer him to the federal court in Brooklyn to face the new charges.
  Some people had wondered why Zazi had initially been charged just with lying to investigators, and not terrorism offenses: My assumption was that the government needed time to complete a forensic examination of the groups' computers to see what they could find.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Zazi Detention Memo:
  2. Zazi Indicted on WMD Charges:
martinned (mail) (www):
Is that really a separate offence? "conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction [etc]"? Why isn't he simply indicted for conspiracy to commit murder?
9.24.2009 6:00pm
OrinKerr:
For one thing, murder is not a federal offense.
9.24.2009 6:01pm
Constantin:
Why wait for the government to do the forensic examination? Just farm it out to some interns and have them summarize the important parts for the prosecutor.

Right?
9.24.2009 6:09pm
AndyM (mail):
It's an add-on offense, similar to how killing someone at random is murder but killing someone because they are a particular race is both murder and a hate crime.

Besides, if the thought of being charged with several million counts of murder (or attempted murder, or consipiracy to commit murder) isn't enough to deter someone from using a WMD, clearly the thought of all those charges plus getting charged with conspiracy to use a WMD will do the trick.
9.24.2009 6:10pm
Mike& (mail):
For one thing, murder is not a federal offense.

It's defined in the Code, at least: 18 U.S.C. 1111.

There usually needs to be some "hook," like killing a judge or something. USA Manual.
9.24.2009 6:13pm
martinned (mail) (www):
If murder isn't a federal offence, then why is he being indicted by the federal government?

And given that he could presumably be indicted for several hundred thousand counts, at least, surely the sum total possible prison term won't be a problem...
9.24.2009 6:23pm
Michael Masinter (mail):
The government initially charged Zazi by information in CO with making false statements, and used the time during which it could hold him before a detention hearing on the false statements charge to secure a conspiracy indictment in NY. The false statements charge is not part of the NY indictment since any alleged false statements were made in CO, not NY, and venue would only be proper in CO.
9.24.2009 6:27pm
ruuffles (mail) (www):
I don't know what is special about today, but there's two new, unconnected set of indictments today.

Here is the story from Illinois, along with the guy's myspace.

Here is the story from NC.
9.24.2009 6:36pm
LN (mail):

Just farm it out to some interns and have them summarize the important parts for the prosecutor.



Wow, that sounds totally ridiculous. I'm sure the prosecutor handled every single aspect of the investigation on his own.
9.24.2009 7:03pm
Bill Sommerfeld (www):
note that the law in question defines "weapons of mass destruction" to include all "destructive devices", including small bottles full of homebrew explosive. this makes for very misleading news stories given the conventional definition of WMD's.
9.24.2009 7:04pm
Guest101:

It's defined in the Code, at least: 18 U.S.C. 1111.

Yeah, under the admiralty section, over which the federal government has primary jurisdiction. Plain old vanilla murder committed on land is a classic state-law crime.


If murder isn't a federal offence, then why is he being indicted by the federal government?

Because he's not charged with murder!


Seems to me like there's a good RICO case to be made, though.
9.24.2009 7:35pm
martinned (mail) (www):

If murder isn't a federal offence, then why is he being indicted by the federal government?

Because he's not charged with murder!

I probably could have put that better.

Still, are the Feds really that keen to prosecute this guy themselves? Or rather, is Congress really that keen to allow the DoJ to prosecute guys like this that they invented a needless new crime to make this possible? (And don't even get me started on the commerce clause issues here.) Is there anyone left who still believes in federalism?

I can see no policy reason for making this crime federal rather than state.
9.24.2009 7:54pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Ruufles, that myspace page seems to indicate that dweebs can be (alleged) terrorists, too.
9.24.2009 8:08pm
OrinKerr:
Martinned,

I am genuinely dumfounded as to why you would want this case brought in New York state court. The feds collected all the evidence, starting, in all likihilld with long tern intelligence monitoring; the Feds have the resources, they have the procedures for it; the planning for the attack involved both international and interstate travel; and the attack was designed to hurt the United States as a country, not just some local interest Do you really think that the federal government should just pass off the entire case to some local DA's office? To be candid, I find that idea ridiculous.
9.24.2009 10:55pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Prof. Kerr: To start with the resources: The Feds have them exactly because they've assumed jurisdiction over almost any crime worth mentioning, leaving the states with the crappy arson investigators.

To the extent that the charges involve elements of interstate and international travel, there must be a normal federal crime to charge him with, to which the attempted murder charges could be connected as a "lesser" offence. Transporting WMDs across state lines is (?) and should be a federal offence.

The fact that he meant "to hurt the United States as a country", whatever that means, is not enough reason, imho, to give the Feds jurisdiction over this case. I certainly can't think of anything in the Constitution that would say otherwise.

(It is an oddly un-legal thing to write anyway. The United States can't be hurt by bombs. People are hurt by bombs, as are buildings and other goods, which is why there are laws against using bombs in this way.)

And finally, I'd say that just because the Feds investigated it, that doesn't mean the case should also be tried in Federal court. Why shouldn't the Feds give this case, with a nice ribbon on top, to "some local DA", or state's attorney? I don't see the problem with that? Is it supposed to be a credit thing? Or a matter of quality of courts?

In a multi-level system of government, government action should not generally take place at the higher level unless there is some tangible benefit to placing it there. Whatever benefit there may have been to federalise the investigation here, there certainly isn't any reason why the Supreme Court in Manhattan can't be used as venue for his trial.
9.24.2009 11:14pm
Richard A. (mail):
Not only that, but the indictment alludes to "explosive bombs."

They are so much more dangerous than those unexplosive bombs.
9.24.2009 11:28pm
James T:
wasn't he an FBI informant at some point - I might be mixing people up, but i think they went after him as he was pointing out competitors to his crimes ala whitey bulger...
9.24.2009 11:33pm
OrinKerr:
Martinned,

I realize you are not from this country, so maybe something is being lost in translation. But almost everything you say is way way off. Among other things, New York state didn't fail to investigate this because of lack of resources: Its orders have no authority outside the state of New York. It's hard to investigate a case in Pakistan if you can't even order a company across the river in New Jersey to hand over evidence. And how are you going to deal with federal classified information in a state court trial? I really can't think of a single case in the country right now more deserving of being brought in federal court: This is the classic example of a criminal case that is appropriately brought in federal court and that has been brought in federal court since the founding. See the prosecution of Aaron Burr in 1807, brought in federal court.
9.24.2009 11:37pm
Dave N (mail):
As a state prosecutor who has condemned (on more than one occassion), the prosecution in federal court of crimes that rightly belong in the state courts, I have to agree completely with OK on this. This case is going be difficult and resource intensive. The Feds have already done the major work (in at least 2 states, given the 2 indictments). It belongs in federal court.
9.25.2009 10:42am
martinned (mail) (www):
Burr was accused of Treason against the United States. Since Zazi is not a citizen, I don't think he can be charged with that.

Like I said, it makes perfect sense to charge him with something suitably federal, and to derive federal jurisdiction over the murder charges from their close connection to the federal crime in question.

Otherwise, I still don't get the principled problem with a Federal investigation uncovering nothing but state crimes, and therefore leading to a trial in state court.

(Federal classified information is the subject of federal law regarding how it is to be treated, etc., which can equally apply to trials in state court under the supremacy clause, unless of course Congress and/or the President specifically make this impossible.)

As for the investigation, I see your point. (Though to some extent there is certainly a crowding out here. You can easily imagine an alternative course of history where increased collaboration between state law enforcement agencies reduces the need for FBI investigations.)
9.25.2009 10:45am
Seamus (mail):

note that the law in question defines "weapons of mass destruction" to include all "destructive devices", including small bottles full of homebrew explosive. this makes for very misleading news stories given the conventional definition of WMD's.



Well, now we know that Saddam *did* have weapons of mass destruction (such as artillery shells, grenades, and other perfectly conventional munitions and ammunition).
9.25.2009 11:14am

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