Texas Man Receives Stiff Penalty for Hate Crime

April 9th, 2015 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense, Houston Criminal Cases

In November of 2014, Brice Johnson, a 19 year old Springtown, Texas teen was sentenced in the kidnapping and assault of a local man. During trial, the prosecutors were convinced that these criminal acts were motivated by Johnson’s disdain of his victim’s sexual orientation. As such, Johnson was charged with a hate crime, which enhanced the penalties for his crime. After being found guilty, Johnson was sentenced to a period of 183 months (15 years) in prison.

What is a Hate Crime?

Hate crimes are best described as any criminal act against another motivated by the victim’s race, color, disability, age, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation.

The James Byrd, Jr. Act

In 2001, the Texas legislature codified the James Byrd, Jr. Act after three white men were convicted in the dragging death of the act’s namesake. James Byrd, Jr. was a black man, and the crime was believed to be racially motivated. Each of the accused men were convicted; two received a death sentence, the other, life in prison.

The Act established a hate crime law which enhances penalties for crimes when it is proven there is bias based on one of the protected classes named above. For example, if a person is charged with a third-degree felony with the hate crime enhancement it becomes a second-degree felony. The minimum penalty enhancement is 180 days in prison. Only first degree felonies and Class A Misdemeanors are exempt from the hate crime enhancement.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

In addition to the Texas hate crime statute, there is also a federal statute. The federal statute, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2009.

Matthew Shepard was a gay student in Wyoming who was abducted by two men, assaulted, and left to die in a remote area of the state. He was found shortly thereafter, but died from his assault days later in a Colorado hospital. Here it was believed that Matthew Shepard was assaulted due to his sexual orientation. Both men were convicted and are serving life sentences in prison.

Defending Against a Hate Crime Accusation

Not every crime constitutes a hate crime. For the enhanced penalties to apply, the prosecutor must prove that the criminal act was inspired by hatred and bias. Prosecutors have been known to attach the enhancement to underlying charges for bargaining power during plea discussions. If you decide to plead guilty, you waive your rights. Thus, it is important that you understand your rights and the charges against you before making this decision.

In 25 years of practice I have only seen this statute used occasionally by the District Attorney’s office in Harris County, but when it is used it is used in a very aggressive manner. Galveston on the other hand has been very reluctant to experiment with this statute. I really don’t understand why, maybe it’s because law enforcement in Galveston County makes so many decisions based on these protected classes that they actually see the hypocrisy; but I doubt it! If you are charged with a crime involving bias, you will need an experienced criminal attorney, like Tad Nelson to defend your case and ensure you receive fair treatment. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Ted Nelson & Associates are knowledgeable and will aggressively fight to ensure the best outcome for your case. Call (281) 280-0100 or use this form to schedule a consultation.

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