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Georgia Enacts New Hate Crime Law

Gov. Kemp has signed a law that would impose additional penalties if the prosecution can prove that the defendant’s motive for committing the crime was hatred of the victim’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

When you hear the phrase “hate crime,” you probably think of atrocities that the perpetrator planned in advance and which led to many deaths. Some recent examples of hate crimes are the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in South Carolina in 2015, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018, and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida in 2016. You might think that there is no way you can be charged with a hate crime if all you did was punch someone. If you yelled racist or homophobic insults at the victim before punching him, prosecutors in Georgia can now charge you with a hate crime. If you are being accused of a hate crime, but you insist that hate was not the reason for your actions, contact an Atlanta violent crimes defense lawyer.

Provisions of Georgia’s New Hate Crime Law

On June 26, 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a bill that makes it possible for judges to increase the sentences of defendants found guilty of violent crimes if hatred of a group to which the victim belongs was the motive for the crime. The law specifies that the increased sentencing can apply if the defendant attacked or physically harmed the victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability. (“Perceived” here means that the aggressor thinks that the victim belongs to a group the aggressor hates, such as when Frank Roque killed Balbir Singh Sodhi, a member of the Sikh faith, mistaking him for a Muslim, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.) If hate was the motive for a misdemeanor, then the defendant’s sentence can increase by up to a year, and if the defendant committed a felony because of hate, the judge can add up to two years incarceration to the defendant’s sentence.

Not every act of violence that takes place between members of different races or religions automatically counts as a hate crime. If the complainant reports a hateful motive, or if law enforcement suspects it, they must investigate whether the incident was a hate crime or simply an act of violence committed for a reason other than hate.

Why Did Georgia Not Have a Hate Crime Law Until Now?

Georgia is the 47th state to pass a hate crime law; most other states already have them. After the racially motivated murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks in 2020, Georgia could not go on without a law against hate crimes. Georgia lawmakers proposed a hate crime law in 2000, but in 2004 the Georgia Supreme Court struck it down because it was unconstitutionally vague; it defined “hate” so broadly that attacking a fan of a rival sports team could have counted as a hate crime.

Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers Will Defend You Against Accusations of Hate

With hate-motivated attacks, as with any other crime, defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence and to representation by a criminal defense lawyer. Contact Ghanayem and Rayasam in Atlanta, Georgia about your hate crime case.