Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Thin Blue Line Act (H.R. 115).
Chairman Goodlatte: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Federal law provides a list of sixteen aggravating factors a jury is required to consider when deciding whether a death sentence is warranted in a Federal capital case. These factors include whether the defendant acted in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner; whether the defendant engaged in substantial planning and premeditation; whether the victim was particularly vulnerable; or whether the victim was a “high public official”.
“High public official,” as defined in the statute, includes a litany of high-ranking public persons, from the President to a foreign head of state to a judge or law enforcement officer. Currently, however, the law only contains specific protections for Federal officers, not state or local officers.
H.R. 115, the Thin Blue Line Act, introduced by my colleague Mr. Buchanan, amends Federal law to add the killing of a state or local law enforcement officer as an aggravating factor for a jury to determine during the sentencing phase of a trial, when the jury is considering whether a sentence of death is justified.
This legislation enjoys widespread support in the law enforcement community. And, Mr. Speaker, we can all understand why. In recent years, police officers across our nation have laid down their lives in the service of their communities, often with little recognition or support. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 17 police officers have died as a result of gunfire already this year. Most recently, two days ago, Deputy Sheriff Mason Moore of the Broadwater County, Montana, Sheriff’s Office was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop. We honor Deputy Moore’s sacrifice, which is a stark reminder of how a routine event can quickly turn fatal for an officer of the law.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it is true that the scenarios where the provision in H.R. 115 applies may be limited. It is true that the vast majority of homicide cases are prosecuted in state courts. It is also true that the circumstances where a defendant killed a state or local law enforcement officer during the commission of a Federal capital offense are probably limited.
But H.R. 115 is nevertheless vitally important in the scenarios where it will apply – for example, in many terrorism cases. My colleagues may not remember that the terrorists who bombed the Boston Marathon also murdered an MIT police officer during their flight from the law. H.R. 115 would also apply to situations where a state or local officer is killed serving as a member of a Federal task force. And it would cover volunteer first responders, who are, of course, “authorized by law” to carry out their duties.
Mr. Speaker, this legislation sends a simple message: the stalking and killing of law enforcement officers will not be tolerated.
H.R. 115 is straightforward, common-sense legislation, which will provide all the men and women of law enforcement, who serve and protect our communities every day, with the support they deserve.
As we conclude the 2017 National Police Week, I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.