The FBI and
Federal Criminal Statutes
Over the years, Congress has enacted more than
3,000 federal criminal statutes. The FBI, as the
national government's only general purpose
investigative agency, can use most of these laws
in its daily enforcement activities. While in any
year the FBI will cite many hundreds of these
laws as the central charge, the overwhelming
majority of the bureau cases are brought under
only a few dozen of them.
A person who is charged with criminal offenses
as a result of an FBI investigation rarely is
accused of violating only a single law. A drug
dealer, for example, might be charged under
separate laws concerning the illegal distribution
of drugs, money laundering and racketeering.
Similarly, a crooked city employee might be
charged with fraud against the government, mail
fraud and criminal tax violations.
Another peculiarity regarding the FBI and the
law is that many federal statutes mirror local
ones. This means, for example, that FBI cases
involving such subjects as bank robbery, gangs,
kidnapping and drug dealing could also be brought
by local authorities. One result of this
situation is that every time the FBI involves
itself in a matter that could be handled by city
or state police, it has less time for matters
that are better addressed at the federal level
such as national security and the criminal
violations of large corporations.
During the Justice Department's data collection
process, assistant United States attorneys across
the country are asked to select the "lead charge"
against each of the defendants they prosecute.
Obviously, the judgement about which law will be
cited as the lead charge is somewhat subjective
when multiple serious violations are involved. In
addition, such judgements sometimes may be
influenced by the political needs of the moment:
an administration, for example, that wants to
show the public it is deeply concerned about the
hot subject of the year such as organized crime
or threats to the nation's security.
Here then, as viewed through the lens of federal
prosecutors across the country, are the statutes
most frequently cited as being the "lead charge"
in the referrals coming from the FBI. The laws
are presented in the order of their statute
numbers. The complete text of these frequently
cited statutes can be viewed by selecting the
particular law of interest in the following
Click on Statute to View