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The anti-terrorism act signed by New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey on June 18 is one of the most sweeping measures passed by a state since the Sept. 11 attacks, being aimed at terrorists, those who aid them and those whose acts play on public fears of terrorism. The new law, criminalizing terrorist actions at the state level, can serve as a backup if portions of the federal law are struck down, if federal convictions are overturned or if the federal government declines to prosecute. “Part of nuclear security is going to hinge on the efforts of state and local police,” and having the law as part of the criminal code will facilitate their ability to investigate, says state Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, one of the primary sponsors of A-911, which passed both houses without a dissenting vote or abstention and took effect June 18. Not only does the law create a first-degree crime of terrorism, it also criminalizes harboring or aiding terrorists, hindering their apprehension or prosecution, and raising money or providing support for terrorist activity. It also creates a first-degree offense for developing, possessing, using or threatening to use chemical, biological or nuclear devices. Those with legitimate uses for such items who recklessly allow access by an unauthorized person would be committing a second-degree crime and could be fined $250,000. Terrorist acts that cause death can be punished by death. The aggravating factors for a capital murder sentence have been expanded to include murder while committing, trying to commit, or fleeing after committing an act of terrorism. Where death does not result, convicted terrorists face a minimum of 30 years without parole and a maximum of life imprisonment. The law amends other parts of the criminal code. It says terrorism is not subject to a statute of limitations. It also adds terrorism and the use of chemical/biological/nuclear weapons to the list of crimes subject to the No Early Release Act. Under that law, at least 85 percent of the sentence must be served before an offender is eligible for parole. The crime of terrorism encompasses a laundry list of offenses including aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide, disarming a law enforcement officer, carjacking, damaging a nuclear plant, and producing or possessing chemical weapons. Those crimes must be undertaken with intent to incite an act of terror; terrorize five or more people; influence government policy or conduct; or interfere with public transportation, public communications, public or private buildings or public services. COMPARISON TO ORGANIZED CRIME LAWS Cohen, a lawyer with Gill & Cohen in Montclair, N.J., explains the law’s comprehensive scope by drawing an analogy to organized crime laws that often focus on the lower rungs of the enterprise. Though some terrorists are willing to die, others who render essential assistance in the form of money, materials and concealment “are not going to want to face the death penalty or life imprisonment in a cell,” he says. Cohen calls it “the heart of what we were doing” to be able to cut a deal with people facing substantial charges so that information can be obtained that will help prevent terrorist attacks. “One of the most important aspects” of the law is that “the attorney general is the one who is required to sign off on any terrorism prosecution,” says Cohen. He also notes that there was an initial concern that an overbroad or vague bill might encroach on free speech rights, such as labor pickets, but says language was added to address that potential problem. “We spent six or seven months working out language we thought would be sustained under the Constitution,” he says. The legislators appear to have succeeded, in light of a comment by Jeff Beach, a spokesman for the public defender, that “nothing has been brought to our attention that would raise any particular red flag.” The New Jersey attorney general’s office is happy, too. Spokesman Peter Aseltine says the office is “100 percent behind this law” and played an extensive role in drafting it. Labor interests also weighed in to ensure that labor disputes were not swept up within the legislation. As originally introduced, A-911, had no death penalty provision. Cohen says it was better that way because murder would still be generally subject to the capital punishment, and tinkering with the death penalty law runs the risk of raising issues for capital cases currently on appeal. The Senate added the death penalty language. Revisions to existing parts of the criminal code include: � upgrading terroristic threats to a second-degree offense when made during a national, state or county emergency, even if the person is unaware of the emergency; � redefining widespread injury as harm to only five people instead of 10, or harm to a building occupied by 25, rather than 20, people; � adding a third-degree offense for causing widespread injury or damage involving hazardous materials and upping it to a second-degree crime if a public health or safety measure was violated; � upgrading from third degree to first degree the crime of tampering with nuclear power plant machinery to cause a radiation release. The offender is subject to at least a 15- to 30-year sentence; � tightening the money-laundering statute’s requirement of actual knowledge of criminal origin to an objective, reasonable knowledge or belief standard; and � upgrading to a second-degree offense the creation, during an emergency, of a false public alarm by planting a fake bomb in a public place, or the false report of a fire, explosion or other event likely to cause evacuation that leads to death, regardless of whether the accused knew of the emergency or could foresee the death. Cohen will discuss the statute on July 24, as a panelist on state responses to terrorism, at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

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