We often think of hate crimes as offenses of extreme violence, such as the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston last year.
But they may not necessarily be crimes of violence. Recently, the International Business Times reported how a senior prank that involved the painting of the words “whites only” on public school facilities in Texas could land five teens with hate crime charges.
The report said the students’ graffiti allegedly caused $20,000 in damage to school property and are facing state felony charges. They could also be charged with hate crimes due to the nature of the graffiti at James Martin High School in Arlington.
The Star-Telegram reported the comments of Lt. Chris Cook, a police spokesman, who said the graffiti contained “several disturbing racial and gender overtones.” The students are accused of painting a “whites only” sign and “trans only” on a bathroom door in the male rest room.
Cook said the hate crime statute will be presented to a grand jury. He told the media that the students had confessed to the graffiti and were “remorseful.”
After a series of attacks at a Dallas neighborhood that were investigated as possible hate crimes, our criminal defense attorneys examined the Hate Crimes Act of 2001.
We pointed out that very few convictions for hate crimes are sustained in Texas. In these cases the prosecutor needs to show that a crime was linked to the accused’s bias against a certain social group. Hate crimes are more likely to be used a bargaining tool, rather than being taken all the way to trial.
Although hate crime convictions can be a challenge for prosecutors, there have been some recent convictions in Texas. In 2015, Conrad Alvin Barrett, 29, from Katy, Texas, was sentenced to 71 months in a federal prison after his conviction of a federal hate crime concerning what the FBI described as the “racially-motivated assault of an 81-year-old African-American man.”
Hate crimes in the Lone Star State are defined in The Texas Hate Crimes Act, Chapter 411.046 of the Texas Government Code.
It points out that hate crimes are defined as being “motivated by prejudice, hatred, or advocacy of violence.” Usually the offender must have demonstrated prejudice based on race, sexual orientation, religion or another factor such as a disability.
There were 243 hate crimes in Texas in 2007, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. More than 50 percent of hate crimes were racially based.
If you are charged with a hate crime, you will likely be facing a higher sentence that you would otherwise and should consult an experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.