Terrorism Investigations

The Charges Against Jose Pimentel, and Details from the Investigation

By Robert Chesney
Monday, November 21, 2011, 5:14 PM

As readers no doubt are aware, the NYPD has arrested Jose Pimentel on an array of terrorism-related charges.  The case is distinctive in that it is not a federal prosecution, which is occasioning some commentary.  In any event...the criminal complaint laying out the charges is here.

There are five counts.  The big news, as I see it, is that there are conspiracy charges indicating the involvement of others.  Most of the media reports have emphasized the “lone wolf” nature of the fact pattern, however.  This seems inconsistent.  Time will tell more on this front, I suppose. [UPDATE: Well, that shows you what I know about New York state criminal law; turns out that in New York relies on the unilateral approach to conspiracy, in which the defendant can still be liable for conspiracy even if the agreement is with a person who for whatever reason does not share that liability, for example because--as in this case--he or she is a confidential informant.]

Count 1. Possession of a weapon with the intent to commit a crime of terrorism

This is an interesting charge in that it is not simply an attempt to commit a crime of violence, but rather a possession offense in which it becomes illegal to possess certain materials (in this case an explosive substance) in light of the possessor’s intent to use them to commit a terrorist act.  There are direct parallels to this in UK law, notably, but I’m not sure there are in US federal law.  In US federal law, you would most likely instead see attempt or conspiracy charges under 18 USC 2332, 2332A, 2332F, and 844 as well.

Count 2. Conspiracy to commit the offense in count 1.

As noted above, this is *really* interesting insofar as the media have reported the claim that Pimentel was a pure lone wolf.

Count 3. Soliciting material support in aid of an anticipated crime of terrorism.

Another fascinating charge.  The basic idea is that he provided himself with material support in anticipation of his planned terrorist attack(s).  The same approach is often taken in federal law under 18 USC 2339A.

Count 4. Possession of a weapon by a person previously convicted of a felony.

Similar to federal law.

Count 5. Conspiracy to commit arson and criminal mischief

Again, raises interesting questions as to the “lone wolf” account.

Note that the sworn statement accompanying the charge sheet also describes the role of a confidential information in the investigation, and details how far along Pimentel got in constructing a pipe bomb.