About the Law
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 table.

Click on Statute to View Text
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