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105th Congress Report
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
1st Session 105-142
VETERANS' CEMETERY PROTECTION ACT OF 1997
June 21, 1997.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the
State of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. McCollum, from the Committee on the Judiciary, submitted the
R E P O R T
[To accompany H.R. 1532]
[Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]
The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred the bill
(H.R. 1532) to amend title 18, United States Code, to create
criminal penalties for theft and willful vandalism at national
cemeteries, having considered the same, report favorably
thereon with amendments and recommend that the bill as amended
The amendments are as follows:
Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert in lieu
thereof the following:
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the ``Veterans' Cemetery Protection Act of
SEC. 2. SENTENCING FOR VANDALISM AT NATIONAL CEMETERIES.
(a) General Rule.--Pursuant to its authority under section 994 of
title 28, United States Code, the United States Sentencing Commission
shall review and amend the sentencing guidelines to provide a
sentencing enhancement for any offense against any property of a
(1) by at least 4 levels if the offense involves the willful
injury to or depredation against such property, and
(2) by at least 6 levels if the offense involves the knowing
theft, conversion, or unlawful sale or disposition of such
(b) Commission Duty.--In carrying out subsection (a), the Sentencing
Commission shall ensure that the sentences, guidelines, and policy
statements for offenders convicted of offenses described in subsection
(a) are appropriately severe and reasonably consistent with other
relevant directives and with other guidelines.
(c) Definition.--For the purposes of this section, the term
``national cemetery'' means a cemetery in the National Cemetery System
established under section 2400 of title 38 and a cemetery under the
jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy,
the Secretary of the Air Force, or the Secretary of the Interior.
Amend the title so as to read:
A bill to direct the United States Sentencing Commission
to provide sentencing enhancement for offenses against property
at national cemeteries.
purpose and summary
The purpose of H.R. 1532, the ``Veterans'' Cemetery
Protection Act of 1997,'' is to increase penalties for offenses
against property of a national cemetery. The bill, as
introduced, would have amended Chapter 91 of title 18, United
States Code, to create a new federal crime of ``vandalism and
theft at national cemeteries.'' The new offense, which mirrored
an already existing prohibition on destruction of federal
property, included the potential for lengthy prison sentences,
thereby increasing the relatively light penalties currently
imposed on persons convicted of such offenses. In lieu of
creating this new federal statute to address the problem of
inadequate punishment, the Committee adopted a substitute
amendment which directs the United States Sentencing Commission
to increase penalties for offenses against national cemetery
property. As amended, H.R. 1532 requires the Sentencing
Commission to review and amend the sentencing guidelines to
provide a sentencing enhancement for any offense against any
property of a national cemetery: the increase shall be at least
4 levels for wilful injury to or depredation against such
property, and at least six levels for the knowing theft,
conversion or unlawful sale or disposition of such property.
The term national cemetery is defined as a cemetery within
the ``National Cemetery System'' established under Sec. 2400 of
title 38, United States Code. It also includes any cemetery
under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior, or the
Secretaries of the Army, Navy or Air Force.
background and need for the legislation
There are currently 114 cemeteries within the National
Cemetery System (NCS), operated by the Department of Veterans
Affairs. 1 The NCS maintains the grounds, structures
and roads of these national shrines. In 1996, the NCS serviced
more than two million grave sites, and experienced an average
increase rate of 152 new grave sites daily. Moreover, the NCS
expects the cumulative number of graves maintained to increase
from 2.2 million in 1997 to 2.37 million in 2000. The long-term
projections estimate more than three million graves by the year
\1\ Since cemeteries within the National Cemetery System are
operated and maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they are
considered federal property. As the Justice Department noted in
comments regarding H.R. 1532, ``we believe that the federal control of
the cemeteries to which this legislation applies establishes an
adequate federal nexus to support federal jurisdiction.'' Letter from
Andrew Fois, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice, to Bill
McCollum, Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime, Committee on the Judiciary
(June 11, 1997) (attached in Agency Views).
State and local authorities play an important role in
assisting the NCS with maintaining order and control over such
a vast amount of grave sites and property. Most crimes at
national cemeteries are minor, and are prosecuted pursuant to
the concurrent jurisdiction of State or local law enforcement
agencies. Local investigation and prosecution may be preferred
for a myriad of reasons: perpetrators may have a history of
similar offenses committed locally, and thus would be familiar
to local law enforcement; local police will likely have a
quicker response time; and perpetrators may be in violation of
parole for State convictions, which could offer additional
charges for prosecutors. As the Justice Department noted in
comments to H.R. 1532, ``Even when federal criminal
jurisdiction exists, federal authorities should be expected to
defer to local investigation and prosecution if certain
conditions favor state or local criminal justice response.''
There are, however, serious criminal incidents against
national cemetery property which clearly justify a federal
response. Between January 1, 1995 and May 31, 1997, there were
twenty-one acts of vandalism against national cemetery property
which resulted in damages over $1,000. 2
\2\ The Committee also notes the tragic murder of a National
Cemetery System caretaker on May 5, 1997. This crime is being
investigated by both federal and State authorities.
One of the most egregious acts was an attack against the
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii,
on April 20, 1997. Vandals defaced all twenty-two walls of the
Columbarium Courts at the cemetery with red-painted racist and
profane statements. The Columbaria contained the remains of
thousands of veterans, spouses and dependants. The vandals also
desecrated the chapel, grave markers and the Courts of the
Missing, which are tablets inscribed with the names of those
missing-in-action. Repair costs are currently at $12,800 and
are expected to rise. 3 Other outrageous incidents
include theft of tools and several hundred flag poles from
Calverton National Cemetery--replacement costs were more than
$18,000. At Wood National Cemetery, vandals stole snow blowers
and set fire to the property--repairs cost approximately
$25,000. At Culpeper National Cemetery, headstones, roadways
and shelters on the cemetery property were spray painted with
swastikas and satanic symbols. These are just a few examples of
crimes where federal action is not only proper, it is critical.
\3\ See, Report on Vandalism At National Cemeteries From January
1, 1995 to May 31, 1997 (attached in Agency Views).
Attacks on National Cemeteries assault America's heritage,
and the courageous sacrifice of its citizens. Such
unconscionable acts insult the memories of the brave men and
women who fought to protect the freedoms cherished by all
Americans. The federal response to such cowardly criminal acts
should be swift and strong.
H.R. 1532, the ``Veterans'' Cemetery Protection Act,''
ensures that vandals who deface and destroy the hallowed ground
of a National Cemetery will be appropriately punished. By
directing the Sentencing Commission to increase penalties for
such crimes, thieves and vandals will learn that the United
States does not tolerate attacks against national symbols of
peace and courage. The Committee expects the Sentencing
Commission to ensure that the guidelines and policy statements
for convicted offenders are reasonably consistent with other
directives, avoid duplicative punishment for substantially
similar offenses and take into account any aggravating or
This legislation is supported by the Non Commissioned
Officers Association (NCOA), the Enlisted Association of the
National Guard of the United States (EANGUS), the Fleet Reserve
Association, and The American Legion.
No hearings were held on H.R. 1532.
On June 12, 1997, the Subcommittee on Crime met in open
session and ordered reported the bill H.R. 1532, as amended, by
voice vote, a quorum being present. On June 18, 1997, the
Committee met in open session and ordered reported favorably
the bill H.R. 1532, without amendment, by voice vote, a quorum
VOTE OF THE COMMITTEE
There were no recorded votes.
COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT FINDINGS
In compliance with clause 2(l)(3)(A) of rule XI of the
Rules of the House of Representatives, the Committee reports
that the findings and recommendations of the Committee, based
on oversight activities under clause 2(b)(1) of rule X of the
Rules of the House of Representatives, are incorporated in the
descriptive portions of this report.
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT FINDINGS
No findings or recommendations of the Committee on
Government Reform and Oversight were received as referred to in
clause 2(l)(3)(D) of rule XI of the Rules of the House of
NEW BUDGET AUTHORITY AND TAX EXPENDITURES
Clause 2(l)(3)(B) of House rule XI is inapplicable because
this legislation does not provide new budgetary authority or
increased tax expenditures.
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE COST ESTIMATE
In compliance with clause 2(l)(3)(C) of rule XI of the
Rules of the House of Representatives, the Committee sets
forth, with respect to the bill, H.R. 1532, the following
estimate and comparison prepared by the Director of the
Congressional Budget Office under section 403 of the
Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
H.R. 1532--Veterans' Cemetery Protection Act of 1997
CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 1532 would result in
additional costs to the federal government to accommodate
prisoners for longer periods of time. We estimate that the cost
of enacting this bill would be less than $500,000 annually for
fiscal years 1997 through 2002, subject to the availability of
appropriated funds. Enacting H.R. 1532 could lead to an
increase in direct spending and receipts; therefore, pay-as-
you-go procedures would apply. However, CBO estimates that any
increases in direct spending and receipts would likely be
significantly less than $500,000 annually.
H.R. 1532 would direct the United States Sentencing
Commission to increase penalties recommended for offenses
against property at national cemeteries. The commission has
assigned each federal crime a base offense level, numbered from
1 to 43, which corresponds to a certain recommended length of
imprisonment, with higher numbers reflecting longer prison
terms. The bill would direct the commission to amend the
federal sentencing guidelines for property offenses at national
cemeteries to increase the base offense level by at least 4
levels if the offense involves vandalism of national cemetery
property and at least 6 levels if the offense involves theft of
national cemetery property.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the bill's
provisions would affect fewer than 100 individuals per year.
Enacting H.R. 1532 would increase the average sentence by about
9 months. Assuming no significant change in the number of
annual convictions, CBO estimates that additional costs of
longer prison sentences would be less than $500,000 a year for
at least the next five fiscal years, subject to the
availability of appropriated funds.
Because the maximum fine for an offense increases as the
offense level increases, the bill's sentencing enhancements
also could result in increased criminal fines. Therefore,
enacting H.R. 1532 could increase governmental receipts through
greater fine collections. However, CBO estimates that any such
increase would be significantly less than $500,000 annually.
Criminal fines would be deposited in the Crime Victims Fund and
would be spent the following year. Thus, direct spending from
the fund would match the increase in revenues with a one-year
H.R. 1532 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of
1995. While this bill directs the United States Sentencing
Commission to provide sentencing enhancements for vandalism
committed at national cemeteries and prosecuted under federal
law, state and local authority would remain unchanged.
The CBO staff contacts for this estimate are Kristen Layman
(for federal costs), and Leo Lex (for the state and local
impact). This estimate was approved by James R. Horney for Paul
N. Van de Water, Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.
CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY STATEMENT
Pursuant to rule XI, clause 2(l)(4) of the Rules of the
House of Representatives, the Committee finds the authority for
this legislation in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution.
Section 1. Short Title. This section states that the short
title of the bill is the ``Veterans' Cemetery Protection Act of
Sec. 2. Sentencing For Vandalism At National Cemeteries.
This section directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review
and amend the sentencing guidelines to provide a sentencing
enhancement for any offense against any property of a national
cemetery--by at least 4 levels if the offense involves the
willful injury to or depredation against such property, and by
at least 6 levels if the offense involves the knowing theft,
conversion, or unlawful sale or disposition of such property.
Rather than create a new federal crime, this instruction to the
Sentencing Commission ensures an effective and direct response
to criminal acts against national cemetery property.
This section also instructs the Sentencing Commission to
ensure that the sentences, guidelines and policy statements for
convicted offenders are appropriately severe and reasonably
consistent with other directives. The Committee expects the
Sentencing Commission to implement the directives in a manner
which fulfills the purposes of sentencing as set forth in
Sec. 3553(a)(2) of title 18, United States Code.
Finally, this section defines a ``national cemetery'' as a
cemetery within the ``National Cemetery System,'' established
under Sec. 2400 of title 38, United States Code. The term
``national cemetery'' also includes cemeteries under the
direction of the Secretary of the Interior, or the Secretaries
of the Army, Navy or Air Force. This language makes clear that
H.R. 1532 only applies to federal lands.
U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Legislative Affairs,
Washington, DC, June 11, 1997.
Hon. Bill McCollum,
Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime, Committee on the Judiciary, House of
Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The purpose of this letter is to provide
you with the views of the Department of Justice concerning
various law enforcement related legislative proposals now under
consideration by the Subcommittee. We note that certain of
these proposals are similar or identical to bills on which the
Department submitted written comments in the 104th Congress.
H.R. 1532, the ``Veterans' Cemetery Protection Act of
1997,'' would create in title 18, United States Code, a new
section 1865, ``Vandalism and theft at national cemeteries,''
at the conclusion of chapter 91 (Public Lands). The proposed
new section, which appears to be modeled on 18 U.S.C.
Sec. 1361, ``Government property or contracts,'' would punish
whoever ``willfully injures or commits any depredation against
any property of a national cemetery, or attempts to commit''
such offenses. Stealing or knowingly converting to personal use
any property of a national cemetery, receiving, concealing, or
retaining such property with the intent of converting that
property for personal gain with knowledge of its stolen nature,
and selling, conveying, or disposing of such property without
authorization are also prohibited.
The Department of Justice supports the goal of H.R. 1532 to
deter vandalism and theft at national cemeteries, though we
recommend some modification of the proposed sanctions in the
interest of consistency with existing theft of property offense
penalties, and certain technical revisions, as described below,
to clarify the coverage of ``attempt'' offenses.
Jurisdiction. Since ``national cemeteries'' as defined
within the draft bill are United States property, or are on
land over which there is federal criminal jurisdiction, willful
damage or depredation of such facilities and theft of
government property from such facilities are generally already
subject to federal prosecution pursuant to 18 U.S.C.
Sec. Sec. 641 (theft of government property), 1361 (destruction
of government property), 1363 (destruction of property within
the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United
States), or 13 (the Assimilative Crimes Act). While past
service in the United States armed forces of the veterans
buried at such facilities might not alone constitute a
sufficient constitutional basis for the assertion of federal
jurisdiction, we believe that the federal control of the
cemeteries to which this legislation applies establishes an
adequate federal nexus to support federal jurisdiction.
``Attempt'' Coverage. Although the coverage of attempted
offenses follows the approach of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1361 in
discussing the value of ``attempted damage,'' we believe that
the approach of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1366(a), in addressing damage
which ``in fact exceeds [the designated amount] or would if the
attempted offense had been completed'' is more precise, and
thus preferable. Accordingly, we recommend that ``damage or
attempted damage to such property exceeds the sum of $1000'' in
(a)(1) of the bill be replaced with ``actual damage exceeds
$1000 or would have exceeded $1000 if the attempted offense had
been completed'' and that (a)(2) be revised in a consistent
Sanctions. The theft and related receipt, concealment, and
possession components of the bill provide a maximum sanction of
15 years' incarceration, regardless of the value of the
property involved. This sanction exceeds 18 U.S.C. Sec. 641's
maximum sentences of 10 years' incarceration for property worth
more than $1000, and of one year's incarceration for offenses
involving property worth $1000 or less. We recommend that the
maximum sentences provided in H.R. 1532 be made consistent with
those in section 641 to avoid creating a distinction in which
offenses involving national cemetery property are subject to
more severe penalties than offenses involving most other
Federal Government property, including theft or destruction of
our nation's most important historical papers and monuments.
Concurrent Jurisdiction Enforcement. Although the
Department does not oppose the emphasis upon federal criminal
justice response which H.R. 1532 seeks to establish for
desecration and other crimes against graves at national
cemeteries, it is important to recognize the vital continuing
role of state and local law enforcement agencies in responding
to such criminal conduct. State and local criminal laws also
apply to offenses within the scope of H.R. 1532 if those
offenses are committed at facilities subject to concurrent
jurisdiction or if those offenses involve prohibited receipt,
concealment, sale, or other disposal of property stolen from a
national cemetery to the extent that such conduct occurs beyond
Even when federal criminal jurisdiction exists, federal
authorities should be expected to defer to local investigation
and prosecution if certain conditions favor state or local
criminal justice response. For example, there are many more
state and local police than federal agents, and thus the local
law enforcement response to such incidents may be faster, and
involve a greater range of available resources in the immediate
vicinity. Local police are often more knowledgeable about the
activities of the possible perpetrators of such vandalism
offenses, since those perpetrators may have previous local
criminal justice contacts involving similar or other criminal
conduct. A perpetrator may even have probationary or other
judicially imposed status in the state or local criminal
justice system, which status will offer additional and more
prompt sanctions when raised in conjunction with new charges.
* * * * * * *
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this matter.
The Office of Management and Budget has advised that there is
no objection to this report from the standpoint of the
Administration's program. Please let us know if we may be of
additional assistance in connection with this or any other
Assistant Attorney General.
REPORT ON VANDALISM/CRIME AT NATIONAL CEMETERIES FROM JANUARY 1, 1995 TO MAY 31, 1997
Brief description (only
Date of vandalism Location (NC=National Cemetery) damages over $1000) Estimated cost \1\
Feb--95.............. Eagle Point NC, OR............. Theft of window sprayer $1,025.
Mar--95.............. Calverton NC, NY............... Break-in/theft: Ford Estimated $35,000 (recovered
tractor, Dumptruck and next day with the help of
trailer. community and police).
Oct--95.............. Los Angeles NC, CA............. Break-in and theft...... $5,000.
Oct--95.............. Springfield NC, MO............. College student removed $1,000.
the U.S. flag from the
staff, draped it around
him, ran down street,
broke a flag light in
Nov--95.............. Calverton NC, NY............... Chain on gate cut, chain $1,400.
link fence cut,
aluminum floral sign
posts stolen, aluminum
Dec--95.............. Wood NC, WI.................... Quonset hut burned, snow $25,000.
Mar--96.............. Eagle Point NC, OR............. Vandalism and theft of $2,050.
pressure washer, garage
door damage, flags
battery and ladder.
Jun--96.............. Riverside NC, CA............... 428 flat markers taken; $6,825.
300 were taken from the
warehouse and 128 from
graves, 128 were
Jul--96.............. Culpeper NC, NY................ Six headstones, $1,532.
stonewall roadway and
interment shelter spray
painted (swastika and
Jul--96.............. Wood NC, WI.................... Fire damage vase $1,000.
container box, water
gazebo, trees & shrubs.
Feb--97.............. Fort Smith NC, AR.............. Trailer containing $2,500 approximate.
cemetery equipment was
broken into and string
trimmers were stolen.
Feb--97.............. Chattanooga NC, TN............. Vehicle driven into $2,300 repair.
fence break ins.
Mar--97.............. Florida NC, FL................. Three vehicles broken $2,400 repair.
into causing damage.
Mar--97.............. Calverton NC, NY............... Service area broken $3,200.
into, eleven padlocks
cut, two cushman
trucksters damaged, one
electric hoist stolen.
Mar--97.............. Calverton NC, NY............... Three hundred & forty $18,374.
flag poles stolen,
various tools stolen.
Mar--97.............. Calverton NC, NY............... Five hundred bronze $3,800.
Apr--97.............. Wood NC, WI.................... Nineteen headstones $1,426.
Apr--97.............. Marietta NC, GA................ Five headstones were $1,295.
tipped over and
damaged, two headstones
were spray painted--all
Apr--97.............. National Memorial Cemetery of Vandalism............... $12,837.00 to date (more will
the Pacific NC, HI. be expended).
May--97.............. Golden Gate NC, CA............. Vandalism; flags stolen $1,400.
and halyard cut.
May--97.............. Beverly NC, NJ................. Flag poles bent to $4,358.
ground, shrubs broken,
four benches pulled out
of concrete base.
\1\ Only Cemeteries with damages over $1,000 included in listing.
\2\ March 95 theft at Calverton not included in total since stolen materials were recovered.
Summary of Vandalism/crime at National Cemeteries:
1. 21 incidents at 114 National Cemeteries with over $1,000 in damages totaling $98,721 (Incidents include theft
of equipment, theft of markers, headstones, flags and flag poles, miscellaneous vandalism and damage to
2. 56 plus incidents at 114 National Cemeteries with under $1,000 in damages totaling $15,186 (Incidents include
vandalism, theft, damage to Government property including buildings, fences, vehicles, headstones, markers,
flag poles and land, graffiti)
3. The above report does not include an estimate of personal property (purses, etc.) stolen from private
vehicles within national Cemeteries.
4. 3 incidents of non-vandalism/crime at National Cemeteries include:
a. Jan. 97 Richmond NC, VA--Bank robbery across street from Lodge--National Cemetery declared crime scene.
b. Apr. 97 Finns Point NC, NJ--Cemetery caretaker killed while closing cemetery at end of day.
c. Feb. 97 Baton Rouge NC, LA--Kidnapped victim brought to National Cemetery, raped on premises and left.