By Joel A. Schneider, Marion County Public Defender Agency
On July 28, anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel. The incident prompted Indiana political leaders to revisit and reintroduce hate crime legislation in Indiana. Indiana is one of five states that does not have any measure of hate crime laws. Efforts to codify hate crime bills have stalled in the three previous legislative sessions, with Senate Bill 418 not making it out of the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee this past session.
If a bill is passed in the next legislative session, here are three important things to consider:
- How comprehensive will the law be? Race, religion, and national origin are common threads in hate crime laws across the nation. There is a debate in Indiana on whether sexual orientation and gender identity should be included within protected groups of persons. Previous attempts to pass legislation have stalled due to conservative lawmakers’ hesitation to include those classes of persons. Currently, judges can consider an aggravated sentence if the victim is disabled, younger than 12, or older than 65.
- How will those that are found guilty of hate crimes be punished? Will hate crimes be a standalone crime? Will it be codified into sentencing guidelines as an aggravating factor? Will it be a sentencing enhancement onto an already codified crime? For example, Attorney General Curtis Hill is proposing an additional two to six years sentencing enhancement for misdemeanors and low-level felonies. He is proposing six to 20 years for high-level felonies. These enhancements would also be non-suspendable.
- What factors will go into the determination of a hate crime? Symbols and statements are common evidence of the intent behind one’s criminal actions. However, what if that type of evidence is not there? One concern is whatever criteria that is used to make this determination will not be uniformly implemented in Indiana’s 92 counties.
Efforts to codify hate crime bills have stalled in the three previous legislative sessions, with Senate Bill 418 not making it out of the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee this past session.
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