Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to Control and Prevent Crime
Nicknames crime bill
Enacted by the 103rd United States Congress
Public law Pub.L. 103–322
Statutes at Large 108 Stat. 1796
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 3355 by Jack Brooks (D-TX) on October 26, 1993
  • Committee consideration by House Judiciary
  • Passed the House on November 3, 1993 (voice vote)
  • Passed the Senate on November 19, 1993 (95–4, in lieu of S. 1607)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on August 10 and August 21, 1994; agreed to by the House on August 21, 1994 (235–195) and by the Senate on August 25, 1994 (61–38)
  • Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, H.R. 3355, Pub.L. 103–322 is an Act of Congress dealing with crime and law enforcement; it became law in 1994. It is the largest crime bill in the history of the United States and consisted of 356 pages that provided for 100,000 new police officers, $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and $6.1 billion in funding for prevention programs, which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers.[1] Sponsored by Representative Jack Brooks of Texas, the bill was originally written by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and then was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Following the 101 California Street shooting, the 1993 Waco Siege, and other high-profile instances of violent crime, the Act expanded federal law in several ways. One of the most noted sections was the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Other parts of the Act provided for a greatly expanded federal death penalty, new classes of individuals banned from possessing firearms, and a variety of new crimes defined in statutes relating to immigration law, hate crimes, sex crimes, and gang-related crime. The bill also required states to establish registries for sexual offenders by September 1997.

Federal Assault Weapons Ban

Title XI-Firearms, Subtitle A-Assault Weapons, formally known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act but commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban or the Semi-Automatic Firearms Ban, barred the manufacture of 19 specific semi-automatic firearms, classified as "assault weapons", as well as any semi-automatic rifle, pistol, or shotgun capable of accepting a detachable magazine that has two or more features considered characteristic of such weapons. The list of such features included telescoping or folding stocks, pistol grips, flash suppressors, grenade launchers, and bayonet lugs.[2]

This law also banned possession of newly manufactured magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition.

The ban took effect September 13, 1994 and expired on September 13, 2004 by a sunset provision. Since the expiration date, there is no federal ban on the subject firearms or magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition.

Federal Death Penalty Act

Title VI, the Federal Death Penalty Act, created 60 new death penalty offenses under 41 federal capital statutes,[3] for crimes related to acts of terrorism, murder of a federal law enforcement officer, civil rights-related murders, drive-by shootings resulting in death, the use of weapons of mass destruction resulting in death, and carjackings resulting in death.

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing occurred a few months after this law came into effect, and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed in response, which further increased the federal death penalty. In 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed for the murder of eight federal law enforcement agents under that title.

Elimination of higher education for inmates

One of the more controversial provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act overturned a section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 permitting prison inmates to receive a Pell Grant for higher education while they were incarcerated. The amendment is as follows:

(a) IN GENERAL- Section 401(b)(8) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1070a(b)(8)) is amended to read as follows:

(8) No basic grant shall be awarded under this subpart to any individual who is incarcerated in any Federal or State penal institution.[4]

The VCCLEA effectively eliminated the ability of lower-income prison inmates to receive college educations during their term of imprisonment, thus ensuring the education level of most inmates remains unimproved over the period of their incarceration.[5]

There is growing advocacy for reinstating Pell Grant funding for all prisoners who would qualify despite their incarceration status. Perhaps the most prominent statement has come from Donna F. Edwards along with several other members of the House of Representatives, who introduced the Restoring Education and Learning Act (REAL Act) in the spring of 2015. At the executive level, the Obama administration is backing a program under development at the Department of Education to allow for a limited lifting of the ban for some prisoners, called the Second Chance Pell Pilot. [6] SpearIt has argued, "First, there are genuine penal and public benefits that derive from educating prisoners. Second, and perhaps more critically, revoking Pell funding fails to advance any of the stated purposes of punishment. In the decades since the VCCLEA’s enactment, there is little indication that removing prisoners from Pell eligibility has produced tangible benefits; on the contrary, among other unfavorable outcomes, disqualifying prisoners may reduce public safety and exact severe social and financial costs."[7]

Violence Against Women Act

Title IV, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), allocated $1.6 billion to help prevent and investigate violence against women. VAWA was renewed in 2000, 2005, and 2013. This includes:

Part of VAWA was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in United States v. Morrison (2000).

Driver's Privacy Protection Act

Title XXX, the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, governs the privacy and disclosure of personal information gathered by the states' Departments of Motor Vehicles. The law was passed in 1994; it was introduced by Jim Moran in 1992 after an increase in opponents of abortion rights using public driving license databases to track down and harass abortion providers and patients, most notably by both besieging Susan Wicklund's home for a month and following her daughter to school.[8]

Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act

Under Title XVII,[9] known as the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, guidelines were established for states to track sex offenders.[10] States had also been required to track sex offenders by confirming their place of residence annually for ten years after their release into the community or quarterly for the rest of their lives if the sex offender was convicted of a violent sex crime.[10] The Wetterling Act was later amended in 1996 with Megan's Law, which permanently required states to give public disclosure of sex offenders.[10] In 2006, the Wetterling Act's state registres was replaced with a federal registre through the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.[11]

Community Oriented Policing Services

Since 1994, the COPS Office has provided $14 billion in assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies to help hire community policing officers. The COPS Office also funds the research and development of guides, tools and training, and provides technical assistance to police departments implementing community policing principles.[12] The law authorized the COPS Office was authorized to hire 100,000 more police officers to patrol the nation's streets.[13]

Other provisions

The Act authorized the initiation of "boot camps" for delinquent minors and allocated a substantial amount of money to build new prisons.

Fifty new federal offenses were added, including provisions making membership in gangs a crime. Some argued that these provisions violated the guarantee of freedom of association in the Bill of Rights. The Act did incorporate elements of H.R. 50 "Federal Bureau of Investigation First Amendment Protection Act of 1993" (into §2339A (c)) to prohibit investigations based purely on protected First Amendment activity, but this was effectively removed in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.[14]

The Act also generally prohibits individuals who have been convicted of a felony involving breach of trust from working in the business of insurance, unless they have received written consent from state regulators.

The Act also made drug testing mandatory for those serving on federal supervised release.

The Act prohibits "any person acting on behalf of a governmental authority, to engage in a pattern or practice... that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States." (Title XXI, Subtitle D.) Subtitle D further requires the United States Department of Justice to issue an annual report on “the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” Such reports have not been issued, however.[15]

The Act included a three-strikes provision addressing repeat offenders.[16]


The increase in incarceration led to prison overcrowding. The legal system relied on plea bargains to minimize the increased case load.[17] Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton later expressed regret over the portions of the measure that led to increased prison population like the three strikes provision.[16][18] Nevertheless, it has been acknowledged that the COPS Office had at least a modest impact in maintaining a long period of reduction in crime that had begun in 1992,[13] but the primary reasons for this reduction remain a topic of debate.[13]


  1. "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994". National criminal justice reference service.
  2. Spitzer, Robert J. (2012). "Assault Weapons". In Carter, Gregg Lee. Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 53. ISBN 0313386706.
  3. "The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994". Office of the United States Attorneys. Department of Justice. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  4. "H. R. 1168". Bulk.Resource.Org.
  5. "Education as Crime Prevention: The Case for Reinstating Pell Grant Eligibility for the Incarcerated" (PDF). Bard Prison Initiative. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 27, 2007.
  6. "A Second Chance for an Education". U.S. Department of Education. 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2016-06-30.
  7. SpearIt (2016-01-06). "Keeping It REAL: Why Congress Must Act to Restore Pell Grant Funding for Prisoners". University of Massachusetts Law Review. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. 11.
  8. Miller, Michael W. (August 25, 1992). "Information Age: Debate Mounts Over Disclosure Of Driver Data". Wall Street Journal.
  10. 1 2 3
  12. "COPS History". Community Oriented Policing Services.
  13. 1 2 3
  14. Dempsey, James; Cole, David (2006). Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties In The Name Of National Security (Scribd Online ed.). New York: New Press. p. 63. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  15. Serpico, Frank (October 23, 2014). "The Police Are Still Out of Control". Politico Magazine: 2. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  16. 1 2 Vara, Vauhini (November 7, 2014). "Will California Again Lead the Way on Prison Reform?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  17. Rohrlich, Justin (November 10, 2014). "Why Are There Up to 120,000 Innocent People in US Prisons?". VICE news. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  18. Hunt, Kasie (October 8, 2014). "Bill Clinton: Prison sentences to take center stage in 2016". MSNBC. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
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