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Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of (1994) - Background Of The Violent Crime Control Act

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The Violent Crime Control Act was passed amid a strong public concern about crime in the early 1990s. Polls had indicated that the American public placed crime at or near the top of the list when asked to name their civic concerns. A large rise in violent crime over a 30-year period—over 500 percent, according to one study, contributed to the public's desire to see something done about the crime rate.

Congress passed four omnibus federal crime bills between 1984 and 1990 in response to this crime wave. Nevertheless, crime continued to rise, and the public's perception was that the federal government was not doing enough to stop crime. However, conservatives and liberals disagreed on the best way to address problem of criminal violence.

Conservatives favored seeing violent criminals serve more of their sentences, and increased money for prison building. They also favored curbing the right of HABEAS CORPUS for death row inmates, and increasing the ability of police to process criminal suspects by reforming exclusionary rules. They also favored so-called THREE STRIKES LAWS, requiring long prison sentences for three-time felons.

Liberals wanted to see more money directed toward social programs that would help to prevent criminal behavior. They favored increased GUN CONTROL. They wanted to see a stop to racially discriminatory laws, and wanted to make sure that minorities were not treated unfairly by the criminal justice system.

The election of President BILL CLINTON in 1992, which for the first time since 1980 meant that the White House and the Congress would be controlled by the same party, increased the chances of meaningful crime legislation. Clinton, who was trying to push through a HEALTH CARE plan that was perceived as liberal, wanted an issue where he could take a conservative approach, and anti-crime legislation seemed like a promising area. In addition, both the Congress and the White House noted the 1993 off-year elections, which many candidates won using strong anti-crime themes.

The stage was set for a comprehensive anticrime bill to pass. Despite the interest of both parties in passing the legislation, it still ended up having a difficult road. Among the problems were the attempts of some liberal representatives to introduce a "Racial Justice Act" which would have allowed death row inmates, at the state and federal level, to challenge their death sentences if statistics suggested that the race of either defendants or victims had affected past death-sentencing decisions in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. This provision was strongly opposed by Republicans and other conservative Democrats and ended up being dropped from the final bill. A proposed assault weapons ban was also controversial.

Eventually, however, both the House and the Senate were able to pass a bill, and President Clinton signed it into law on Sept. 13, 1994.

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