How Can Murder Become a Federal Crime?

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Constitutionally, states generally handle their own criminal law, regardless of the severity of the crime. However, in some circumstances, murder can become a federal crime. Some examples of this happening include murder that attacks the judicial system or U.S. government, murder that happened on a body of water, murder that involved crossing state borders, and murder that involved drug trafficking.

In many cases, there is an overlap between federal and state law. When this happens, the term “concurrent jurisdiction” is used. This means that both state and federal government can exercise their judicial view on the same case, at the same time. This could happen, for instance, if a crime is committed on federal property and the action is also a crime in the state, if the crime involve Indian tribe members, or if the Interstate Commerce Clause is involved. However, under the Fifth Amendment, it is not permitted for someone to be tried twice for one offense, which is known as “double jeopardy”. Nevertheless, because federal and state statutes are different, it may look on paper as if a defendant is charged for two different offenses and be found guilty twice, be acquitted twice, or be found guilty once and be acquitted once.

Murder that Becomes a Federal Crime

So how can murder become a federal crime? There are numerous highly complex circumstances in which this is possible. Examples include:

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 1114 – Murder of an officer or employee of the United States

If the murder involves a law enforcement official, a federal judge, or someone like a DEA or FBI agent, then it will be classed as a federal offense.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 115(b)(3). Murder of a family member of an employee of the United States

All law enforcement officials are protected by federal law, including their family members, particularly if the murder is in retaliation.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 351, 1751. Murder of the President or presidential staff

Should the murder victim be a Supreme Court Justice, a cabinet officer, the Vice President, the President, a Senator, or a Congressman, it would always be classed as a federal offense.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 1111. Murder during bank robbery

If someone commits murder as part of another felony crime, such as arson or kidnapping, it will become a felony murder. However, bank robbery is not just a felony but also a federal crime. Hence, if a murder is committed during a bank robbery, federal charges will usually be brought. The murder can be of anyone who is linked to the bank robbery, including hostages, innocent bystanders, bank employees or customers, or security guards.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 1512. Murder to influence court cases

If the murder involves a juror, court official, informant, victim of a crime, or witness, and was done to influence the outcome of the associated court case, then federal murder charges will be brought. Retaliation murders after someone testifies in court are also classed as federal crimes.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 2280. Murder on a body of water

This crime is officially listed as “an offense against maritime navigation”. When this law was first drawn up, it was put in place due to piracy. However, today the law is still in place and any murder that happens on a U.S. body of water, or any murder of a U.S. national on a body of water, regardless of where in the world it happens, can be classed as a federal offense.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 2248, 2251. Murder related to the sexual exploitation of minors

If a murder happens as part of a sex crime, be that of the victim of sexual exploitation or anyone else involved in other manners, it will usually be charged as a federal crime. This is particularly true if the victim died as a result of a felony crime such as rape, or whether a sexual crime against a minor was commissioned. What few people understand is the link between the sexual exploitation of children and the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Essentially, this clause allows Congress to regulate foreign and interstate commerce. Technically, this includes all travel on railways, shipping lanes, roads, and more. Hence, should a murder occur while illegal materials relating to the sexual exploitation of minors, such as child pornography, are being transported, it will likely be charged in a federal court.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 36, 924. Murders related to drugs

The “War on Drugs” is real in this country. It is believed that in the four years between 2006 and 2010, more people were killed for it than the total number of U.S. soldiers that lost their lives in Iraq. As a result, any death related to drugs, be that drug trafficking, supply, or anything else, will be charged as a federal offense.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 1716. Murder by Mail

If someone were to mail a lethal item, such as dangerous animals, poisons, explosives, or biological hazards with the aim to kill another individual, then it will be charged as a federal crime, even if no state lines were crossed. One example of this happening is the case of the Unabomber, who killed three and injured 23 people.

  1. 18 U.S.C. Section 1958. Murder for hire

Murder for hire, just as murder related to the sexual exploitation of a minor, is linked to interstate commerce. In a murder for hire case, communication and movement across state lines may have occurred, be that by road, rail, water, or even telephone or the internet. If so, then the case is likely to be trialed under federal law.


  • Commerce Clause (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • U.S. Constitution – Fifth Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 1114 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 115(b)(3) (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 351, 1751 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 1111 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 1512 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 2280 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 2248, 2251 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 36, 924 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • U.S.C. Section 1716 (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 18 U.S.C. Section 1958 (n.d.). Retrieved from