Congress must rethink statutes, define ‘violence’
Juveniles who support terrorist groups actively can escape serious prosecution under federal law because of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, The Associated Press reported this week.
Already, that has prompted federal prosecutors to skip proceedings against some minors, allowing state courts to handle their cases. In one, a Texas court sentenced Matin Azizi-Yarand to 20 years in prison, with possibility of parole after 10 years.
Azizi-Yarand was 17 when he plotted to go on a shooting rampage at a shopping mall, in support of the Islamic State terrorist group. Fortunately, he was arrested before he could act on his plan.
Federal law provides that juveniles can be prosecuted for aiding terrorist groups or, like Azizi-Yarand, planning their own attacks. But there is a catch: Minors have to have committed a “crime of violence” in order to be charged with aiding foreign organizations.
The Supreme Court, in a case last year, found the “crime of violence” provision was unconstitutionally vague. It did not define violence adequately, justices explained.
Federal prosecutions of juveniles for terrorism-related acts, including conspiracies, is rare. But several Islamic terrorist groups work hard, often via the internet, to recruit minors. As the Azizi-Yarand situation makes clear, they sometimes are successful.
That means Congress should rethink the relevant statutes. If a precise definition of “crime of violence” is necessary, it should be drafted and enacted.
No one should be given a pass on federal prosecution for planning or carrying out a terrorist act, regardless of what organization is being supported.