Understanding Hate Crime Statutes and Building towards a Better System in Texas

By Gillis, Ben | American Journal of Criminal Law, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Understanding Hate Crime Statutes and Building towards a Better System in Texas


Gillis, Ben, American Journal of Criminal Law


I. Introduction..........198

II. History of Hate Crime Statutes..........199

III. Types of Hate Crime Statutes..........201

A. Institutional Vandalism..........201

B. Sentence Enhancements..........202

C. Substantive Offenses..........203

D. Data Collection..........204

IV. Scope of Hate Crimes..........205

V. Which Groups to Protect?..........208

VI. State Responses to Hate Crimes..........211

A. Wisconsin..........211

B. Florida..........213

C. Hawaii..........214

D. New York..........215

E. California..........217

F. Texas..........218

VII. Hate Crime Prosecution..........220

VIII. Effectiveness of Hate Crimes Statutes..........221

IX. Recommendations for Texas..........223

A. Underutilized Portions of Texas's Current Hate Crimes Statute Should Be Put Into Practice..........223

B. Prosecutors Should Be Required to Submit Data on How Many Offenders are Charged and Convicted for Hate Crimes Each Year.. 224

C. Provide Additional Training for Law Enforcement Personnel, as well as Oversight of that Training by State Officials..........225

X. Conclusion..........226

I. Introduction

On April 22, 2012, three women were assaulted outside a bar in Williamson County, Texas.1 Julie Ward, one of the victims, said that she and her companions had been targeted because they were gay.2

Ward claimed that she, her sister, and her sister's partner were first asked to leave the bar because of their sexual orientation.3 She said that next, patrons of the bar followed them outside, restrained them, and assaulted them.4 The bar manager's wife, meanwhile, told a different story: that the women were roughhousing; that they were not asked to leave the bar because of their sexual orientation; and that they were not assaulted at all.5 When asked whether the incident would be considered a hate crime, a representative from Williamson County Sheriffs Office said only that an investigation was ongoing and that "if 'it is warranted that charges be filed for a hate crime, charges will be filed.'"6

Incidents such as this fuel an ongoing nationwide debate about the proper scope and function of hate crime laws. How will law enforcement investigate such offenses? Under Texas's current bias crime statute, will a prosecutor be willing or even able to charge perpetrators with a hate crime? While it is undisputed that bias-motivated crime should not be tolerated, there is little consensus as to whether current laws actually prevent hate crimes from occurring.7 Are our current laws effective? One obvious goal of such statutes is to reduce crime, but aside from that objective, are current laws serving the community through public awareness and education?

Nowhere are these questions more appropriate than in Texas. Despite the fact that Texas has had a hate crimes statute on the books since 1993, prosecutors seem extremely reluctant to charge defendants with hate crime offenses. Indeed, data indicates that Texas prosecutors have only used the hate crime law eighteen times since 2001.8 If prosecutors are not utilizing hate crime laws, the public will not become educated about this important issue, and perpetrators will not be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent provided by statute. Of course, while higher rates of prosecution do not necessarily mean that a hate crime statute is effective at stopping crime, prosecution is at least evidence that the statute is being used. What can be done to make Texas's hate crime statute more accessible to prosecutors and, ultimately, more effective at curtailing crime?

This Note will first explore the history, types, and scope of hate crime statutes throughout the United States. It will then analyze hate crime statistics in a number of particular states, in order to determine which are utilizing their hate crime statutes, and whether the construction of those states' statutes has any effect on hate crime rates. …

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