Texas has had a hate crime statute since 2001. However, the law is used sparingly and many people who are arrested for hate crimes are not eventually convicted.
Hate crime charges can also be brought by the federal authorities. Last month, a 26-year-old man was convicted of a federal hate crime for burning down a Texas mosque in January 2017.
A federal jury also found Marq Vincent Perez guilty of using a fire to commit a felony and possession of an unregistered destructive device during an earlier incident, according to the Department of Justice.
The U.S. Department of Justice cited anti-Muslim rhetoric on Perez’s social media pages to back up the hate crimes charge.
Prosecutors also presented testimony from a witness who had been with Perez on the night of the fire. He said Perez was excited to see the Victoria Islamic Center on fire.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division said in a press release.
“All people are entitled to live free from violence and fear, regardless of their religion or place of worship. This Justice Department is committed to holding hate crimes perpetrators accountable under the law.”
Lawyers for Perez will appeal the verdict claiming the case was handled more like a political trial than a criminal proceeding.
Over the course of a five-day trial, witnesses claimed Perez carefully planned and scoped out the mosque before the fire. Investigators found items taken from the mosque at Perez’s home. They said they found an improvised bomb similar to that used in an attempted car bombing before the fire, the DOJ stated.
Federal hate crimes are punished severely. A report on CNN noted Perez faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the hate crime offense and up to 10 years for possessing an unregistered destructive device.
The Victoria mosque burned to the ground at a time of heightened tensions after the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The mosque fire was three weeks after the partly constructed Islamic Center of Lake Travis in Texas suffered the same fate.
In Texas, the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act of 2001 strengthened penalties for a select number of crimes motivated by hatred of certain minorities and views.
These are crimes that show evidence of prejudice by an offender based on religion, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability of the victim.
The law has been used sparingly in recent years. Figures from the Office of Court Administration found Texas averaged just one conviction a year from 2001 to 2012.
Last year, Texas joined a handful of states that enacted so-called “Blue Lives Matter” laws, making attacks on law enforcement officials, including judges, a hate crime. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the law H.B. 2908 into law in June 2017. Defendants convicted of unlawfully restraining or assaulting a law enforcement officer or a judge are guilty of a second degree felony and face up to 20 years behind bars.
Talk to a Texas Hate Crimes Defense Lawyer
It can be difficult to prove a hate crime. Not only must the crime be committed against a certain group but the prosecutor must show the accused intended to target the victim due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or disability. A criminal defense lawyer can fight hate crimes charges. Please contact an experienced Dallas hate crimes defense lawyer today.