May 2, 2009

Paving the Way for the Next Suppression

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal editorial board argues against hate-crime legislation on the grounds that it "can empower an increasingly intrusive government, already snooping enthusiastically into private communications" and classifies the citizenry in "protected" and "unprotected" groups. The editorial notes one worrying example:

John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, notes that protesters have already been punished under state hate-crimes laws for exercising First Amendment rights.

In one 2004 case in Pennsylvania, he noted, Christians were arrested and clapped in jail under a state hate-crime law for singing hymns, reading from the Bible and carrying signs during a street fair celebrating homosexuality. They were charged with felonies and misdemeanors that could have earned them 47 years behind bars. Officials eventually dropped the charges.

Add to this David Freddoso's observation concerning the legislation that's currently on the table at the federal level (emphasis added):

Another problem with this particular bill is that it explicitly encourages federal prosecutors to try defendants twice for the same crime, even if the first trial results in acquittal.

People usually think of hate-crimes bills as sentence-enhancers — and indeed, many state hate-crime laws take that format. The Shepard bill does not. In addition to providing financial help for local prosecutors for hate crimes, it creates a new federal charge, with a ten-year prison sentence, that can be used against those who commit "crimes of violence" with firearms or explosives, or which cause serious bodily harm, motivated by hatred toward certain groups.

Among other things, the bill permits the U.S. Attorney General to initiate federal hate-crime prosecution in cases where

"the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence."

Somebody found innocent, in other words, must still be prepared to stare down the federal government if the U.S. AG is of a different opinion than the jury of peers. When it comes to their dealings with special demographics, suspects would be guilty until proven innocent... twice. And even twofold acquittal won't erase the effects of prolonged exposure in the court of public opinion.

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“In addition to providing financial help for local prosecutors for hate crimes”
This is a most insidious point – it will direct tax dollars towards a political agenda – just like the ACLU is paid when representing a "protected class or people."

Posted by: Bill Felkner at May 3, 2009 8:04 AM
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