Hate crime legislation unnecessary
By Ian Bezek
I support the movement toward providing equal civil rights for homosexuals in America.
I applaud President Obama for promising to end the illogical “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and to instead allow gays to serve openly in the military. This is a concrete step toward creating equality for gays in our legal code.
What we don’t need, however, are Orwellian laws that create “thought crime.” That’s why I oppose all hate crime legislations, including the currently-debated Matthew Shepard Act, which would increase penalties for crimes committed by defendants whose motives are proven to have been influenced by the victims’ sexual orientation.
The problem with this sort of law is that it treats crimes differently in the legal system. If I murder an ex-girlfriend who cheated on me, I get charged for murder, however if she hooked up with another woman, then suddenly I killed a lesbian and get a far harsher sentence even though my motive — revenge — was unchanged.
Supporters of the law argue that hate crimes legislation will be used only when there is clear motive. Yet, in a 20/20 report that aired years after the attack on Shepard, ABC suggested that perhaps Shepard wasn’t even killed because he was gay. It is hard to judge the motives of insane criminals.
It’s dangerous to try to judge the motives of defendants, particularly when prosecutors are making bargains to secure testimony from frightened witnesses.
If a person is killed unjustly, our legal system already is capable of and should punish the criminal to the maximum degree allowable. The skin color, religion or sexual orientation of the victim is irrelevant to the fact they were victimized.
Expansion of hate crime legislation a positive, long overdue
By kevin hollinshead
The Matthew Shepard Act, passed in the House on Friday, supplements existing federal hate crime law by adding the GBLT community to the list of groups covered. It’s a positive, crucial step in protecting gay rights, and it’s long overdue.
An 18-year-old Greeley transsexual named Angie Zepeda was brutally murdered last year by a male suitor who got upset after she revealed she still had male genitalia. Just about everyone knows about Matthew Shepard, a gay man killed by three men with known animosity toward homosexuals. These two cases are part of a select few in recent memory to be tagged with a hate crime charge, which are much less prevalent than one would think.
Hate crime laws exist to combat a very real problem: There are indeed people who commit violent crimes at least in part due to the race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation of the victim. Whether a crime was motivated by these factors is definitely not irrelevant to the case, as some critics believe.
Generally, hate crime laws allow a judge to increase penalties if a defendant’s motivation for committing a violent crime is proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have been influenced by the race, religion or other characteristics of the victim.
It’s not the basis for conviction, just a piece of the prosecution’s puzzle. In determining a defendant’s guilt and sentence, the jury and judge consider a killer’s motives, and hate crime legislation is simply an extension of this.
Hate crime legislation protects minority communities in this country. They do not give preferential treatment to these groups; they just ensure that people who commit a violent crime are held accountable for their reasoning. The justice system was established to treat each and every case as unique and worthy of the utmost scrutiny, and hate crime legislation expands on that principle.