A federal judge last week sentenced a Virginian to life in prison for the shooting death of a Treasury Department employee. The Washington Post called it one in a growing number of cases in which prosecutors are using tougher federal laws to target traditionally local crimes. Because the Virginia defendant had three convictions for armed robbery, he fell under a federal statute that made him an “armed career criminal.” “I don’t believe it is the place of this federal court to sentence Mr. Williams for a state crime,” said the defense attorney.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Lieberman and other defense lawyers who oppose the federal tactic were whining. “What would these lawyers say to crime victims?”, asked U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. “If there’s a federal law that should apply, it should definitely be used.” Federal laws are being increasingly used nationwide in a variety of cases once left to local authorities. Much of the trend is being driven by Project Safe Neighborhoods, a Bush administration initiative that subjects criminals who use guns to tougher federal sentencing laws and helps local authorities fight gun crime. It is partly modeled on Project Exile, a program begun in 1997 to crack down on gun violence in Richmond, Va. Since 2000, federal gun-crime prosecutions have risen 76 percent.