Newly introduced legislation may soon make assaulting a railroad worker a federal crime, similar to legislation that was introduced not long ago for airport workers.
On May 16, 2017, an Amtrak conductor was shot in suburban Chicago. This year, two U.S. senators marked the one-year anniversary of this tragic occurrence by introducing the bipartisan Passenger Rail Crew Parity act, which would make assaulting or intimidating railway workers a federal offense. Suspects would be prosecuted in federal court, which would likely lead to harsher criminal penalties.
Below, we discuss the reasons for this bill, as well as the penalties that defendants could soon face for assault of a train worker. The bottom line is that it’s important to be aware of this legislation – and to know what you’re up against if you are facing these charges.
What You Should Know about the Passenger Rail Crew Parity Act
Unfortunately, assault of rail crews is becoming increasingly common. The above Amtrak conductor was one of 73 reported assaults of Amtrak crew members since 2015. Crew members on other railways and public transit systems face similar threats of violence from passengers.
Currently, the assault of a rail crew member is prosecuted in state court, and rail crew members do not have special protections. In Illinois, most assaults are charged as misdemeanors or low-level felonies punishable by a relatively short prison sentence and/or relatively minor fines.
The Passenger Rail Crew Parity Act would make assaulting a railway worker a federal crime, similar to what was imposed a few years ago for airline employees and crew members. The goal of the act is to impose harsher penalties for assaulting or harassing rail crew members, discouraging passengers from committing these offenses.
The Seriousness of Federal Assault Penalties
Federal assault penalties are much harsher, and federal courts are notorious for imposing the maximum allowable sentence in many cases.
Under federal law, assaults that result in personal injury to the victim are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment in a federal facility and a fine of up to $250,000. Assaults that do not result in personal injury are punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of up to $25,000.
Importantly, federal assault laws do not provide for aggravated assaults involving the use of a dangerous or deadly weapon. If a weapon is used to commit the assault, federal courts are likely to prosecute for attempted homicide.
Like murder, attempted murder is charged in degrees, with first-degree attempted murder being an intentional premeditated attempted murder, and second-degree attempted murder being attempted murder in which the defendant acted without premeditation.
Attempted murder is always a felony-level offense. First-degree attempted murder is often punished by a life sentence, and second-degree attempted murder is punished by a lengthy prison sentence ranging from 5-15 years.
How Federal Criminal Defense Works
If you are facing criminal charges, it is always important to act fast by hiring a good attorney as soon as possible. However, this is even more important if you are charged with a federal crime.
Anyone in serious legal trouble is afraid that “the feds” will be called in – and for good reason. Penalties are very severe, and federal courts are likely to impose the maximum possible sentence. This is especially true if the court is attempting to “make an example” of your case.
Federal criminal defense is different in many ways from state-level criminal defense. Federal agencies have a much bigger budget to investigate, so you are likely to face much more evidence against you. Federal trials work differently than those at the state level as well – penalties, court procedures, and processes are all unique to federal courts.
This means that you are likely to face a much more difficult trial, and if convicted, you will likely be subject to enhanced sentencing. If you or a loved one are currently facing charges for assault or a federal offense, it is normal to be scared and unsure of how to move forward. You are no doubt aware of the seriousness of these offenses.
That’s why, for federal criminal defense, it is essential to hire an attorney who is experienced in defending severe federal charges. You need a skilled Chicago criminal defense attorney. Someone who will leverage his or her expertise to fight tirelessly for the best possible outcome to your case.
Ready to start fighting? Call us today.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.