Back the Blue Act – H.R. 2437 (Poe) / S. 1134 (Cornyn)

H.R. 2437
Introduced by:
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)
Text of bill: 
Click here for full text of this legislation.

S. 1134
Introduced by: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
Text of bill: Click here for full text of this legislation.

Summary: Read FAMM’s factsheet on the bill here. The Back the Blue Act, if passed, would create new federal crimes and new mandatory minimum sentences for assaults, killings, or attempted killings of state and local law enforcement officers, including current and former police officers, probation and parole officers, firefighters, judges, correctional officers, and court personnel. While violence against these public servants is unacceptable, the Back the Blue Act is unnecessary, violates constitutional principles, and will produce unjust, expensive sentences that do not make taxpayers or law enforcement safer. 

FAMM opposes the Back the Blue Act because

  • It is unnecessary. 
    • All 50 states already make it a serious crime to assault, kill, or attempt to kill law enforcement officers, and all 50 states already have serious punishments — including the death penalty — for people who do so. There is no evidence that states are not taking crimes against law enforcement seriously. Many states, in fact, are already in the process of making these laws even stricter and harsher. Iowa, for example, just passed a bill, SF 445, that requires people who attempt to kill police officers to serve 100 percent of their sentences, with no ability to earn time off their sentences for good behavior.
    • There are also already federal laws that carry mandatory minimum life sentences (or the death penalty) for killing law enforcement personnel, including 18 U.S.C. § 1121(a)(1) (first degree murder of a state or local law enforcement officer or any person assisting in a federal criminal investigation), 18 U.S.C. § 1503 (first degree murder of an officer of the court or a juror), and 18 U.S.C. § 1114 (first degree murder of federal officers). There is also already a 20-year mandatory minimum prison term for violating 18 U.S.C. § 1121(b)(1) (killing of a state correctional officer by an inmate).
  • It is unconstitutional. Prosecuting violent crime is one of the powers the Constitution reserves for state and local governments. We should not be “making a federal case” out of every attack on a police officer on a local beat. These are local crimes that should be prosecuted locally, with punishments decided by local authorities who know their local communities — not by politicians in Washington.  
  • It lacks “mens rea” (criminal intent) provisions to ensure that only the criminally guilty are convicted. It is an age-old, bedrock principle that people should not be convicted of crimes unless they had a “guilty mind” and knowingly and intentionally committed the crime. The Back the Blue Act has no mens rea requirements. The accidental death of an officer on duty – for example, in a car accident – would require a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence. Such “strict liability” offenses with such severe sentences are sure to produce unjust results and should not be added to our federal criminal code.
  • It will produce unjust sentences that do not make us or law enforcement safer. The Back the Blue Act’s lengthy, mandatory prison sentences will produce unjust and absurd results, including punishing people who assault or kill police unintentionally:
    • A frightened and mentally ill person who accidentally injures a police officer while being arrested for a status offense would get a 2-year mandatory federal prison sentence
    • An inebriated person who resists being taken to a treatment center and accidentally pushes a police officer into his squad car, breaking the officer’s arm, would get a 5-year mandatory prison sentence
    • A woman who calls police to her home to stop a burglary, but mistakenly shoots one of the officers after he enters her house, would get at least 20 years in federal prison – or 30 years if the officer died.

    Our brave police officers willingly accept the risk of assault and death as part of their jobs. One-size-fits-all punishments will create unjust results that erode respect for the law and its officers, do nothing to protect police, and harm police-community relations. 

  • It will fill prisons and cost taxpayers billions. 
    • In FY 2015 alone, more than 50,000 police officers were assaulted nationwide. More than 14,200 of these sustained injuries. Under the Back the Blue Act, most or all of these assaults could be prosecuted in federal courts and result in 2, 5, 10, or 20-year mandatory federal prison sentences. It currently costs almost $32,000 to put one person in federal prison for one year. Even assuming that these 14,200 cases garnered the shortest mandatory minimum sentence permitted by the Back the Blue Act (2 years), they would generate an additional $908 million in federal prison costs for taxpayers – for 2015 cases alone.
    • Money spent on Back the Blue Act crimes would be better spent on truly federal cases that states lack the resources to prosecute, like stopping terrorists or cybercriminals or complex internet fraud schemes.
    • Money spent on Back the Blue Act crimes would be better spent on providing law enforcement and victims with equipment and services that will actually save their lives.
    • Despite recent declines, federal prisons are still overcrowded, and federal prison costs consume more than 25 percent of the annual Justice Department budget, sapping funding for law enforcement. Federal prisons are expensive and should be reserved for truly federal offenders like terrorists and cybercriminals, not people who can and should be prosecuted and punished in state courts by local authorities.

Bill Status: The bills have not become law. We do not know if or when these bills could become law. To become a law, these bills must be approved by the Judiciary Committee, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, passed by the U.S. Senate, and signed by the President. It takes a long time to pass a bill into law, and very few bills become laws each year. Versions of these bills have been introduced in previous sessions of Congress and have not passed. 

Keep checking this page for updates on the bills’ progress.