H.R.115 – Thin Blue Line Act

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Week ending May 19, 2017

H.R.115 – Thin Blue Line Act


Current law is amended by this bill.

The aggravating factors in current law (when deciding if the death penalty is justified include: ‘whether death occurred while the defendant was committing one of a list of specific offenses; 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.”\4\ In this case, “high public official” includes a litany of high-ranking public persons, from the President to a foreign head of state to a judge or law enforcement officer.\5\ Under 3592(14), the law enforcement officers in question are required to be Federal officers.

 Those provisions are amended “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.”

The bill provides for mitigating factors to be considered;

The defendant’s capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the defendant’s conduct

 The defendant was under unusual and substantial duress, regardless of whether the duress was of such a degree as to constitute a defense to the charge.

The defendant is punishable as a principal in the offense, which was committed by         another, but the defendant’s participation was relatively minor, regardless of whether the participation was so minor as to constitute a defense to the charge.

Another defendant or defendants, equally culpable in the crime, will not be punished by death.

The defendant did not have a significant prior history of other criminal conduct.

The defendant committed the offense under severe mental or emotional disturbance.

The victim consented to the criminal conduct that resulted in the victim’s death.

Other factors in the defendant’s  background, record, or character or any other         circumstance of the offense that mitigate against imposition of the death sentence.

The bill also addresses the aggravating factors for espionage and treason. (b) Aggravating Factors for Espionage and Treason;

 The defendant has previously been convicted of another offense involving espionage or treason for which a sentence of either life imprisonment or death was         authorized by law.

 In the commission of the offense the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of substantial danger to the national security.

In the commission of the offense the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of  death to another person.

(Full text of H.R. 115 at congress.gov)

Sponsor:  Rep. Buchanan, Vern [R-FL-16] (Introduced 01/03/2017)

Status: Passed House /



On Passage: On passage Passed by the Yeas and Nays: 271 – 143 (Roll no. 265).

House Amendments:

Motion to recommit:

Text of the motion:


On Passage:

Procedural Actions:

Senate Amendments:


Cost to the taxpayers:  Based on an analysis of information provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts about the number of trials the bill would probably affect, CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 115 would have no significant effect on the federal budget.

Pay-as-you-go requirements:      Enacting H.R. 115 could affect direct spending and revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. Enacting the bill could increase the number of federal appeals filed for people who have been sentenced to death under the bill. Such increased filings would increase the collection of court filing fees, which are recorded in the budget as revenues; a portion of which can be spent without further appropriation. However, such fees are waived for defendants represented by public defenders. Because the number of additional appeals is probably very small and because the majority of such appeals would have defendants with public defenders, CBO estimates that enacting the bill would have an insignificant effect on revenues and associated direct spending in any year; the net effect on the deficit would be negligible.

Regulatory and Other Impact:    H.R. 115 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and would not affect the budgets of state, local, or tribal governments.

Dynamic Scoring:   CBO estimates that enacting the legislation would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2028.

Tax Complexity:  Not applicable to this bill.

Earmark Certification:  Data not available

Duplication of programs:

No provision of H.R. 115 establishes or reauthorizes a program of the Federal government known to be duplicative of another Federal program

Direct Rule-Making:  The Committee estimates that H.R. 115 specifically directs to be completed no specific rule makings within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. 551.

Advisory Committee Statement: In accordance with clause 9 of rule XXI of the Rules of the

House of Representatives, H.R. 115 does not contain any congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits as defined in clause 9(e), 9(f), or 9(g) of Rule XXI.

Budget Authority:    Clause 3(c)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives is inapplicable because this legislation does not provide new budgetary authority or increased tax expenditures.

Constitutional Authority:   Assumed.


More Bill Information:



Though troubled and saddened by the recent attacks on law enforcement officials, we believe that H.R. 115, the “Thin Blue Line Act,” is counterproductive to ensuring public safety and only serves to exacerbate concerns with the unfair and unjust federal death penalty. As demonstrated by the robust discussion of the amendments proposed to this legislation during the Committee’s markup, the bill is both unnecessary and constitutionally problematic. The failure to hold a hearing on death penalty legislation also sets a troubling precedent given the many legal and policy concerns present in capital sentencing.

In recognition of the serious concerns raised by this legislation, organizations committed to the protection of civil rights and civil liberties have written letters in opposition, particularly noting that the Thin Blue Line Act, “is an unnecessary and misguided attempt to politicize the unfortunate deaths of law enforcement officers and could ultimately exacerbate existing tension between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

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