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Texas Law Makes an Attack Against Law Enforcement a Hate Crime

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This post discusses H.B. 2908, an expansion of hate crime protections to benefit law enforcement professionals. Governor Gregg Abbott originally backed the expansion after five police officers were attacked and killed in Dallas in July 2016. H.B. 2908 goes into effect on September 1, 2017.

Similarly, the Thin Blue Line Act, a federal bill, was recently passed in the U.S. House. The bill imposes the death penalty on an individual or group convicted of attempting to kill or killing first responders.

What is a Hate Crime?

Hate crimes cases often receive lots of media and political attention. These crimes are usually violent crimes involving an individual or group victimization based on gender, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or social status. According to the Texas Government Code, the victimization of someone because of his or her affiliation or unique status is illegal.

Murder, verbal or physical assault, vandalism, or harassment may be considered a hate crime. Because any hate crime is likely to attract media attention, it may be much more difficult for the accused to get a fair trial.

Have you been accused of committing a hate crime?
Contact a defense attorney at the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky >>

H.B. 2908: Texas “Blue Lives Matter” Law

H.B. 2908 reflects the state’s intolerance of offenders who target law enforcement professionals. The new law adds judges and police to others targeted or threatened because of perceived age, race, color, ancestry, religion, sexual preference, disability, or gender:

  • If found guilty of making terroristic threats to a judge or police officer (that places the law enforcement professional in fear of “imminent bodily injury”), the offender faces a state jail felony and up to two years in jail.
  • If found guilty of assaulting a jurist or law enforcement officer, the offender faces a second-degree felony and up to 20 years in prison.
  • If found guilty of an attack that results in severe bodily injury to a jurist or law enforcement officer, the offender faces a first-degree felony and up to 99 years/life in prison.

The new law addresses both the 2016 Dallas police officer deaths as well as the 2015 attack on District Judge Julie Kocurek in Austin. Judge Kocurek survived her attack.

H.B. 2908 Opposition

Civil rights advocacy groups, such as Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) and others, say H.B. 2908 is a backward step in lightening overburdened and overcrowded Texas prisons. The Texas Civil Rights Project argues that the statute inappropriately addresses concerns about attacks on law enforcement professionals. The original law addresses prejudice and bias.

H.B. 2908 Support

Police lobby groups, including the Texas State Troopers Association, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, Houston Police Officers’ Union, and Texas Municipal Police Association support the bill.

Other Blue Lives Matter Laws

Before Texas’ H.B. 2908 was signed into law on June 6, 2017, other states enacted similar laws. Louisiana was the first state (2016). Earlier in 2017, Mississippi and Kentucky enacted signed versions. Today, California, Wisconsin, Florida, Washington, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maine, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Missouri have similar laws.

Indiana and Virginia’s bills failed. Although Kansas and Arizona passed laws that increase punishments for attacking law enforcement professionals, the attacks aren’t punishable as hate crimes.

Advocates for Blue Lives Matter laws want hate crime protections for police at the federal level. In early 2015, after two members of the New York City Police Department were murdered in a squad car, the National Fraternal Order of Police (NFOP) asked members of Congress and President Barack Obama to pass police protective hate crime legislation.

The addition of a protected occupational group is still a matter of fervent debate. Opponents of Blue Lives Matter laws say that special laws are already in place to protect the police. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has argued that working as a police officer or jurist isn’t a personal, innate characteristic.

Federal hate crime laws date to the Civil Rights Act of 1968. In 2009, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (18 U.S.C. § 249) added gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and gender categories to the existing race, identity, religion, and color protections.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate crimes increased after the 2016 election. The FBI reported that there were almost 7,200 reported hate crime victims in 2015.

Texas Hate Crimes

Historically, it was difficult to convict those accused of hate crimes in Texas. For instance:

  • A transgender individual was attacked at Houston Community College. He was kicked, beaten, and left on a bathroom floor. Although the offender was convicted on an aggravated robbery charge, the prosecution dropped the case’s hate crime element.
  • A taxi driver of Middle Eastern origin was assaulted by a drunk, angry passenger in Austin. Although prosecutors brought hate crimes charges against the offender, the case didn’t proceed as a hate crime. The case ended in a hung jury.
  • A Houston man was walking home at 3:00 a.m. from a bar near his home. Three men got out of a car and proceeded to punch and kick him. He was shot twice and left for dead on the road. The incident was recorded as a potential hate crime but it wasn’t prosecuted as one. Prosecutors couldn’t apprehend the men who committed the crime.

An alleged hate crime allows Texas prosecutors to add a sentencing enhancement, such as by adding more time behind bars if the authorities are able to prove the alleged offender acted out of intentional bias towards the victim’s age, ancestry, gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, color, religion, or disability.

If you, or someone you know is facing criminal charges, contact a defense attorney at the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky now. >>

Hate Crimes by the Numbers

From 2010 to 2015, almost 1,000 potential hate crimes cases were presented to the police in Texas. Of this number, the Texas Judicial Branch reported only five hate crimes convictions.

According to The Texas Tribune, it’s difficult for prosecutors to prove the accused’s intent regarding a hate crime. Perhaps prosecutors believe it’s better to pursue significant sentences—without the hate crime element—or perhaps they “lack the will” to seek enhanced sentences. Police officers might not have the training necessary to build a hate crime case. And, in extremely violent cases such as rape or murder, the prosecutor might decide to alleviate the hate crime element because the law doesn’t provide for additional punishments.

It may be difficult to identify, arrest, or charge an alleged defendant in a hate crime. Police report many religious hate crimes are done at night, so no one knows who committed the crime.

The District Attorney in Harris County, Kim Ogg, said she believes that Texas lacked “statewide leadership” to enable the hate crime statute to live up to its potential. If a police officer files a crime report, he or she has the option to check a box that indicates the crime was possibly motivated by bias.

In a Texas criminal case, the prosecutor must show that the defendant committed an alleged act “intentionally,” “recklessly,” “knowingly” or with criminal negligence. It isn’t required for the prosecutor to prove motivation.

In a hate crime case, the prosecutor must prove motivation. In larger jurisdictions, such as Houston, the police department has more resources. The department can dedicate more people to evaluate prospective hate crimes.

Harris County’s District Attorney has said she’s committed to the aggressive pursuit of alleged hate crime perpetrators. H.B. 2908 is a reflection of this potential sea change.

Houston Hate Crimes Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a hate crime in Texas, this is a legal emergency. Prosecutors have the “will” and the resources to pursue alleged offenders, especially those hate crimes concerning law enforcement officers and jurists.

You need an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Brett A. Podolsky is board-certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the state of Texas. Call the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule an initial case review now.

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