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Georgia Supreme Court Strikes Down Hate Crimes Law

The state Supreme Court in Georgia on Monday overturned a 2000 law allowing for enhanced penalties for hate crimes. The law specifically allows an increased prison sentence when it is determined “beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or any property of the victim as the object of the offense because of bias or prejudice.” Because there are no qualifications attached to “bias or prejudice,” the Court unanimously ruled that the law is “unconstitutionally vague” because it fails to “give persons of ordinary intelligence an understanding and adequate warning of the proscribed conduct.” The case at stake involved a white couple, Christopher Botts and Angela Pisciotta, who were convicted of a 2002 attack on two African-American brothers. The couple was convicted of screaming racial epithets at the men and assaulting them, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They were sentenced to six years for aggravated assault and two years under the hate crimes law, which allowed up to five additional years in prison, according to the Associated Press. Justice Carol W. Hunstein wrote in the opinion, “We are by no means condoning appellants’ savage attack on the victims in this case or any conduct motivated by a bigoted or hate-filled point of view.” Supporters of the hate crimes law had attempted to be more specific by identifying hate crimes as crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation. However, because of opposition in the legislature to including sexual orientation, the bill sponsors had to remove the delineation of protected categories. “It was the best that could be accomplished at the time,” said Harry Knox, former executive director of Georgia Equality, according to the New York Times. “We tried to get more from the legislature but couldn’t.” State Senator Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), the sponsor of the original bill, has vowed to introduce a new bill in light of the Court’s decision. “We’re going to move forward in an aggressive manner to make sure we have a hate crimes law in Georgia,” he told the Journal-Constitution. JOIN the Feminist Majority

Sources:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution 10/25/04; Georgia Code Section 17-10-17 & 17-10-18; Georgia Supreme Court opinion Botts v. The State, Pisciotta v. The State; Associated Press 10/26/04; New York Times 10/26/04

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