The bill treats crimes targeting law enforcement officers for harassment and violence similarly to hate crimes, but some critics of the proposed legislation say that police already have enough legal protections, and others point to a loophole by which HB 838 would make the penalties for intentionally killing a police officer much lighter than they currently are.
One incident can be prosecuted and punished as a variety of crimes, which is one of the reasons it is so important to consult a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you are arrested for an alleged crime. For example, if one person dies because of another person’s actions, is it murder, manslaughter, self-defense, or something else entirely? The defendant’s intentions make a big difference in how the suspect will be prosecuted for the crime. Was the victim’s death an accident, an altercation that escalated to the point that it involved deadly force, a premeditated killing, or a hate crime designed to kill the victim and frighten countless other people who share the victim’s race, religion, or sexual orientation?
The recent protests in response to the killings of Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other African-Americans at the hands of police have included widespread calls for extensive reforms to policing and, in some cases, the abolition of entire police departments. A new law in Georgia raises the question: if law enforcement personnel as a group are a target of people’s anger, does that make them a protected category under laws related to bias-motivated crimes, giving them the same protections afforded to transgender people and members of racial and religious minority groups? If you are facing criminal charges because of your actions toward a police officer, contact an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer.
What Does HB 838 Say?
In August 2020, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 838 into law. The new law criminalizes “bias-motivated intimidation” against police and first responders, adding additional penalties for people convicted of causing or attempting to cause bodily injury or major property damage to law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. If a jury determines that your actions toward a police officer were motivated by general hatred toward police, you could get an additional five years in prison and an additional $5,000 fine. It could lead to people convicted of ostensibly minor crimes receiving long sentences. Normally, if you vandalized a personal vehicle that belonged to a cop, you would not get five years in state prison, but with the new law, you might, if the prosecution convinces the jury that you vandalized the car because of your anger about police brutality.
Protections for Police and Protestors
Gov. Kemp’s decision to sign the Republican-authored HB 838 was part of a political compromise. He also signed the Democrat-authored HB 426, which defines hate crimes and specifies penalties for bias-motivated violence based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Critics of HB 838 argue that it undermines the efforts of protesters and violates their First Amendment rights.
You are Entitled to Due Process, No Matter the Circumstances of the Crime
A criminal defense lawyer will protect you from unjust application of the law and, if applicable, from unjust laws. Contact Ghanayem and Rayasam in Atlanta, Georgia about your protest-related charges.