This week, three Houston men were convicted on federal hate crime charges for the assault of an African-American man last August. The conviction is the first of its kind in the Houston area.
According to the charges, the men encountered the victim at a bus stop on the night of August 13. One of the men asked the victim for the time, and then another used a racial slur. The group then attacked the victim, stomping him and kicking him in the head.
Initially, the assailants were charged with misdemeanor assault offenses in state court. Ultimately, though, federal authorities intervened with felony hate crimes charges.
The federal hate crimes law was passed in October 2009. It gives the FBI authority to investigate violent crimes in which the victim appeared to be targeted because of his or her sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, race, color, religion or national origin. To date, 15 defendants have been convicted under the law.
Defending Hate Crimes Charges
Mounting a federal hate crimes defense presents unique challenges. In addition to defending against the underlying crime, the defense needs to be prepared to rebut the prosecution’s allegations of state of mind and prejudicial intent.
In this case, the prosecution pointed to the use of racial slurs, as well as the fact that the defendants’ bodies were decorated with white supremacist tattoos. The prosecution alleged that the men ran into each other on the street, “bonded” over the tattoos and then took their shirts off to display them as they attacked the victim.
In denying that he is a racist, one defendant pointed to the fact that he has a Hispanic wife and biracial children. He further noted that one of his sisters is married to an African-American man. Indeed, one of the defendant’s African-American friends actually testified in his defense.
The defendants are now deciding whether to appeal their convictions. If they do, the case will likely spur further discussion regarding how to prove prejudicial intent in a hate crimes case.
Source: Houston Chronicle, “Three White Men Convicted of Hate Crime in Attack at Houston Bus Stop,” James Pinkerton, April 16, 2012.