Attacks on Police in Texas are Hate Crimes under 2017 Police Protection Act
Look in the dictionary and “hate crime” is defined as any crime that is motivated by hostility towards the victim because he or she is a member of a specific group (like gender, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation).
The FBI has its own definition: a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Hate crimes aren’t new. In fact, countries all over the world have passed statutes defining “hate crimes.” Assaults, killings, and violence based upon hostility toward a specific group have been around for centuries. Making hate crimes against the law and passing statutes imposing punishment upon them – well, those haven’t been around as long.
From a criminal defense perspective, “hate crime” involves the violation of a specific federal or state law for which there is an enhanced punishment involving jail time and /or fines.
What is a Hate Crime?
Any number of criminal acts can turn into a charge of being a “hate crime.” They include:
- Sexual assaults
- Armed robbery
- Sexual harassment
- Disturbing the peace.
The key to getting charged with a “hate crime” is the police and prosecutors alleging they have evidence about motive or intent behind the alleged criminal act. If they assert there are facts establishing the alleged act was motivated by hostility toward the victim because the victim was a member of a specific group, then the alleged crime gets prosecuted as a “hate crime.”
Added Penalties for Hate Crimes
Here’s one reason why this is a big deal for anyone accused of a crime in Texas. If the prosecutor successfully proves up the criminal act happened and that it was indeed a “hate crime,” then sentencing changes for that crime.
The punishment is bigger; it’s got “enhancements” because of the motivation behind the crime. Maybe that is more jail time. Maybe it’s a bigger fine. Maybe it’s restitution to the victim.
Defending Against Hate Crimes
From a criminal defense perspective, alleging something is a hate crime adds more work to the case. Not only must the accused defend against being convicted of the act itself (the assault, the robbery, etc.), but the defense must go into motivation behind the allegation, too.
In a hate crime, the defense must build a case that not only is the accused not guilty of committing the criminal act, but that the accused did not act based upon some kind of bias or prejudice.
New 2017 Police Protection Act
Earlier this month, Governor Abbott signed into law the “Police Protection Act,” which becomes an amendment to Article 42.014(a) of the Texas Code Criminal Procedure effective in Texas on September 1, 2017.
This new law defines the police as a “protected class,” which means that they can be the subject of a hate crime. It also applies to judges.
Enhanced Punishment Up to 99 Years behind Bars as 1st Degree Felony
Under the new law, crimes against police officers on the job have enhanced punishments.
- If there is serious bodily harm to the police officer then the crime becomes a first degree felony that can come with a maximum sentence of 99 years’ incarceration.
- Threatening a police officer, or restraining him or her is treated the same as physically assaulting the officer where there isn’t serious bodily harm. In these situations, the enhancement makes the act a second degree felony which carries with it up to 20 years’ incarceration.
Legislation in Response to Dallas Police Officer Shooting
This new Police Protection Act was passed in response to the killing of five Dallas police officers (with another 11 wounded) back in 2016. It had the backing of the Governor as well as law enforcement agencies all around the state.
What Does the Police Protection Act Mean For Texas?
There are those that argue this new hate crimes act is bad law, including those at Grits for Breakfast. As Grits points out, along with his commenters, this new hate crime law may well push accused individuals into pleading guilty to charges after there has been police misconduct.
Grits provides examples to bolster his position. Down in San Antonio, a police officer beat an accused man named Carlos Flores while Flores was handcuffed. Then the officer accused Flores of assaulting him, which under the new Police Protection Act would constitute a hate crime.
Video was found of the assault, and it confirmed that Flores wasn’t the one committing the assault. That was the police officer. Flores was later determined to be innocent by the local Conviction Integrity Unit (and his conviction was overturned).
Shocking to think that the police might commit bad deeds and then threated the accused with an enhanced penalty, right?
Others criticize this new law as expanding the concept of “protected class” too far. Hate crimes have traditionally been defined as involving vulnerable or minority groups. Should the police be included in this circle – and if so, what does that say about our society today? See, “Should Killing a Police Officer Be a Hate Crime?” written by Rebecca Beitsch and published by the Pew Charitable Trusts on August 3, 2016.
Facing Hate Crime Charge Involving Police Officer
This new Texas Hate Crime law is following a trend that is growing around the country. There is already a similar law in Louisiana, for instance. It’s troubling.
- So, are police officers and prosecutors going to use this new law as a tool to pressure accused individuals into false confessions or into harsher sentences? Odds are high this will happen.
- And will those who are the traditional victims groups given protection under hate crime laws going to find their protections weakened by the expansion here to law enforcement? Maybe so; the ACLU thinks this is a given.
Bottom line, beginning September 1, 2017, the job of all Texas criminal defense lawyers gets tougher. Now each case needs to be reviewed for the likelihood that it’s being improperly applied or used as the result of prosecutorial misconduct. That’s the reality, as Grits has pointed out so well.
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