Racism

Federal Hate Crime Law Looks Inevitable

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Last week the Senate approved the Matthew Shepard Act, which dramatically expands the "hate crimes" covered by federal law, as an amendment to a must-pass military spending measure. Since the House already has passed a stand-alone version of the act, which President Obama strongly supports, it is expected to become law by the end of the year. Yesterday I discussed that prospect on The Bob Zadek Show, which airs on San Francisco's KNEW. The major themes of the hour-long show: The hate crime bill exceeds the federal government's constitutional powers, allows retrial of defendants acquitted in state court, violates the principle of equal protection by giving special treatment to crime victims if they belong to certain groups, and punishes people for their speech and beliefs by enhancing penalties for crimes motivated by bigotry.

Regarding that last problem, the House version of the bill includes a provision, demanded by the American Civil Liberties Union as a condition of its endorsement, that says "evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense." I'm not sure how much impact that provision would have in practice. Wouldn't evidence of a defendant's opinions about homosexuality, for example, be deemed "specifically related" to his motivation in beating a gay man? In any case, the Senate version of the bill instead says that "nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs" (emphasis added). Since any prosecution under the law hinges on the commission of a violent crime, that provision does nothing to prevent the introduction of constitutionally protected speech as evidence to support a conviction. It will be interesting to see whether the ACLU, which has long been divided on the issue of hate crime legislation, withdraws its support for the bill if the final version includes this meaningless reassurance instead of the provision the organization favors.

The House version of the Matthew Shepard Act is here; the Senate version is here. A recording of yesterday's radio show is available here. Previous Reason coverage of hate crime laws, including my 1992 feature story and my last column on the subject, here.

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  1. I wonder if it will be easier to get a conviction of a hate crime than a what, “non-hate” crime?

    Would weirdo publications and associations normally be allowed in an assualt trial? Will some of those now be admissable because they are relevant to a “hate” crime?

  2. I for one hate the idea and think it’s a crime.

  3. How long until “congressperson” or “official” is added to the victim categories?

    This is bad.

  4. We’re circling the drain faster and faster…

  5. Yo, fuck.

  6. ‘The hate crime bill exceeds the federal government’s constitutional powers, allows retrial of defendants acquitted in state court, violates the principle of equal protection by giving special treatment to crime victims if they belong to certain groups, and punishes people for their speech and beliefs by enhancing penalties for crimes motivated by bigotry.’

    In other words, blah, blah, blah, you’re a racist and you dare to oppose Obama’s healing ministrations to cure this racist country.

  7. Why are the police paying so much attention to the *non*-hate crimes, where people rob, burglarize, kill, etc. without racist or heteronormative motive?

  8. I’d personally rather Congress pacify gays with something that doesn’t border on punishing people for speech, but if this type of law has to exist it only makes sense to extend protection to gays.

  9. “what, “non-hate” crime?”

    That’s called a love crime.

  10. While I disavow the whole notion of hate crimes as a necessary and separate class, if you accept that there is such a thing, then why would there be any “special” protection of speech if it were evidentiary?

    If someone is overheard to say “I can’t stand fags and I wish they were all dead” how is that not evidence of motive if charged in the murder of a gay?

  11. No one could be worse than Bush or Bush-lite McCain!

    And don’t even get me started on Palin. She is so inexperienced!

    This law will make us so much more like Canadians…and that is a good thing because Canadians have universal health care, as do the Cubans.

  12. It will be interesting to see whether the ACLU, which has long been divided on the issue of hate crime legislation, withdraws its support for the bill if the final version includes this meaningless reassurance instead of the provision the organization favors.

    I’m betting no. The ACLU has more liberals than libertarians.

  13. The ACLU has libertarians?!?

  14. That’s called a love crime.

    Love Crimes: The Collected Works of SugarFree

  15. The ACLU has libertarians?!?

    One. They keep it locked in cage in the basement, fed on tofu scraps and empty promises. They occasionally consult it about things, but they usually ignore it since donors would get pissed if this were known.

  16. Damn straight, X. I’m the NRA/ACLU.

  17. Grrrr! Fucking stupid ass law. Last I checked assault, manslaughter and murder were all illegal in all 50 states.

    If you beat me because I’m an atheist or because I’m a smartass doesn’t really make much of a difference in the amount of pain I feel or the costs of treatment, does it?

    That it is named after a victim who may or may not have been a victim solely because of his sexual orientation impresses me not one fucking iota.

    All laws named after victims are guaranteed to be poor legislation.

  18. To summarize:

    Strapping eletrodes to your neighbor’s head and sending 300 volts through his skull to “cure him of mental illness” – legal

    Strapping electrodes to your neighbor’s head and sending 300 volts through his skull because you think it’s fun – illegal

    Strapping electrodes to your neighbor’s head and sending 300 volts through his skull because you hated him ever since he painted his house pink – illegal

    Strapping electrodes to your neighbor’s head and sending 300 volts through his skull because you concluded that he was gay when he painted his house pink – double illegal

  19. How long until “congressperson” or “official” is added to the victim categories?

    See cop. What caste are you a member of?

  20. What caste are you a member of?

    The wrong one, by all available evidence.

  21. Good one, Citizen Nothing! Next you’ll try and tell me that Obama is black.

  22. Love Crimes: The Collected Works of SugarFree

    Is that going to be the working Title? Perfect.

  23. Damn straight, X. I’m the NRA/ACLU.

    I don’t think I would admit to either of those.

    The ACLU track record pretty dismal and, well I just won’t discuss the NRA in polite company.

  24. It must be said that there is a precedent for hate crimes penalties – it’s like the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. That’s making a different penalty over issues of intent.

    However, I still don’t support this law.

  25. “what, “non-hate” crime?”

    That’s called a love crime.

    So…rape?

  26. If you want to see hate speech exemplified, listen to any liberals, especially homosexual liberals or feminist pro choice liberals talking about conservatives.

    They don’t deal with the idea or discussion, they attack the person with vicious ad hominem attacks.

  27. We need the Matthew Shepard Act!!!

    Matthew Shepard’s murderers got off with only two consecutive life sentences apiece!!!

    Justice failed for Matthew Shepard. How can we discourage the senseless beating deaths of members of protected groups if the bigots know that the only consequence that states like Wyoming will exact will be to lock them in cages forever!!!

    Clearly federal legislation is needed!!!

  28. It seems to me that the motivation could reasonably be considered as a factor in sentencing without requiring a whole separate crime to be invented.

  29. It seems to me that the motivation could reasonably be considered as a factor in sentencing without requiring a whole separate crime to be invented.

    Well duh. But then what would they put in their campaign ads?

  30. Correct me if I’m wrong, but current hate crime statutes are already solely used in sentencing and the new federal legislation adds something to that involving the actual finding of guilt.

    HALP LAWYERLY PERSONS. There’s a tard in need.

  31. It must be said that there is a precedent for hate crimes penalties – it’s like the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. That’s making a different penalty over issues of intent.

    Yes, but intent is wholly different from motive.

  32. Murderers should be charged with a hate crime or they should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. It’s crazy to kill somebody if you don’t hate them. I never do that.

  33. If we set aside the debate on how this affects freedom of speech, the 14th amendment or fits with the Supreme Courts motto of “equal justice under the law” and just focus on what should be the core purpose of laws and punishments, either as deterrents or as as punitive actions, then for me, having Matthew Shepard’s name associated with the act, seems to prove that additional laws and punishments for “hate crimes” are either not needed or will be ineffective. The assailants in the Shepard’s case were facing the death penalty because of their actions and ended up receive sentences of life in prison. But somehow, to some people, this means that the current systems is broken and that adding the threat of an additional 4 years in prison would have stopped it from happening. I’m not really certain how the ACLU came to that conclusion but given their support for the act and their willingness to throw out Mr. Shepard’s name and to trot out other cases where the criminals got life in prison it does seem that they believe those four years hold some sort of mystical murder stopping powers.

  34. This law needs to be chained to a truck and dragged then it’s tattered remains hung on a fence.

  35. It’s crazy to kill somebody if you don’t hate them.

    Not if you’re just after someone’s life insurance or someone’s wife (or, of course, both).

  36. Nobody knows what I’m thinking now, but I assure you, it’s a crime.

  37. What is the ultimate goal of this thing? To make everyone think good thoughts? Seems sinister to me, if not outright counterproductive.

  38. Deutschland, Deutschland ?ber alles

  39. Has anyone else noticed the irony of putting an “anti-gay bashing” law into a military budget?

  40. Have any of you heard of Elizabeth Shoaf ?

    She was a fourteen-year-old girl who had been kidnapped, held in an underground hole, and repeatedly raped because she was a virgin .

    Should virgins be protected under hate crimes statutes?

  41. Mr Wilder? Whereas you and your pals criticize us for what we do in the privacy of our own homes and in regards to our own bodies, and then blame us for getting upset, we don’t have any problem with you living your life the way you do, whether it be in regards to your sexuality, your religion, your family, WHATEVER.

    The only thing that pisses “us” (and keep in mind, labeling a whole group of people as “liberals” or, so nicely put, “homosexual liberals,” is pretty unstable – “we” are quite diverse in our opinions) off about “YOU” is that you attack the very things which make us happy – the freedom to love whom we want. You may not approve of the sex we have or the relationships we forge, but do these things have ANY bearing on your life? Does it threaten anyone else’s relationship? Does it do harm to anyone? No, it doesn’t…

    Seeking to stop basic efforts that will ensure protection for groups of human beings who are still at higher risk for discouraging, violent, and often deadly assault is just a waste of time, and so counterproductive. Why don’t you instead stick to fighting “us” on economic issues, which DO affect everyone?

    Say all you want about us fags and how we should all be damned – just keep it to yourself. You really would want to see a young person who is just learning about their sexuality to hear this and kill themself because they think they’re an abomination? It happens A LOT. I know a few people whose family members were in such a situation.

    In return, we will keep OUR moths shuts in front of you about the morals and values and ideas you may be teaching your kids.

    ****
    Thank you to Billy and Mad Max. I am with you.

  42. Please, I think you’re an abomination. Not because you’re a gay liberal but because your tangent had nothing to do with anything posted here.

  43. Fair enough, Ted, but he’s an abomination because:

    Thank you to Billy and Mad Max. I am with you.

    …his sarcasm detector was broken if it ever actually functioned.
    I personally have to agree with the proncipled libertarian position against hate crime laws.

  44. I’m impressed with Tony. Even though he refuses to ever go full libertard, he at least won’t tow the Democratic lion on this legislation.

  45. You know, I would almost be placated if I really thought the rules of evidence would be strict in determing whether “the evidence specifically relates to that offense”. For instance for the case of carjacking a defendant’s statement, “I hate white people” would not be admissible because it’s too vague, unless he defendant said it during the crime itself. But “I hate white people and I’m going to steal their cars” might be admissible.

    Unfortunately, I have no such faith in Federal prosecutors or judges. If for whatever reason they decide to try a case, they’ll use whatever they can shoehorn in no matter how unrelated it is. I’m sure some genuine bigots will be prosecuted under this law, but I’m equally sure that those cases would already have gotten the maximum penalty already (the perpetrators in the namesake Shepard murder are not likely to see the light of day ever again*). The only people this will catch that wouldn’t have been prosecuted already are going to be poor saps who made the mistake of getting acquited of a crime and incidentally making racist/sexist/homophobic remarks.

    * good thing, by the way. They deserved what they got. But the point is that they got it without this law on the books, so what is the need for it?

  46. Yeah, this Fed Hate Crime bill is nasty – straight out of Orwell.

    All Americans are supposed to be equal, but some Americans are apparently more equal than others.

    Wyoming the supposedly horrible, violent, backward place where the Matthew Shepard crime took places rank 47 out of 50 states in murder totals hate all of 14 murders in the whole state in 2005.

    I live in Chicago (rated the least free City by Reason magazine – over taxed, over regulated, strict gun control laws, not that the criminals care) – we led the nation last year with over 500 murders, but I guess I should feel better knowing that few or any of these murders qualify as “hate Crimes” – politically incorrect oppressor group targeting official PC victim group member because of bias against gays, Muslims, the disabled and Latinos (Muslims and gays? those are strange PC victim bedfellows).

    Check out our video on all this PC BS:

    http://blip.tv/file/2350021

    It is a shame that only a very small group of activists fought hard to beat this Hate Crime Bill. Libertarians did a poor job of fighting it (as usual).

    Jack Ellis
    http://www.bikers4freedom.com

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