By John P. Gallo, Marion County Public Defender Agency
Hate crime legislation has once again emerged in the Indiana legislature. According to the Chicago Tribune, State Senator Mike Bohacek has promised to introduced a bill that would include a sentencing aggravator if “a crime was committed with intent to harm or intimidate an individual based on certain factors including race, religion, sex, gender identity, disability, political ideology, sexual orientation and status as a public safety official.”
Forty-five states have some form of law criminalizing or enhancing bias crimes. In 1993, the United States Supreme Court weighed in, upholding hate crimes statutes as constitutional. In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, Chief Justice Rehquist wrote, "this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm…bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest."
The Tribune spoke to House Speaker Brian Bosma, who stated “state law already allows a judge to consider a criminal's motivation during sentencing but also acknowledged that it may be time to clarify the law.” Indiana Code §35-38-1-7.1, the criteria for sentencing statute, does not explicitly give judge’s authority to consider a criminal’s motivation as an aggravating factor. However, the statute does contain some guidance for judges when determining a sentence. If a crime is against a person with disability or “mentally or physically infirm” person, it is considered an aggravating factor at sentencing.
Skeptics of hate crime legislation tend to dismiss the laws as brushing over more complicated societal problems. NPR quotes Micheal Bronski, a professor who stated hate crime laws “misdirect us from looking at much deeper issues… we end up passing these laws and saying 'look at this, we're actually doing something.'" However, proponents emphasize that hate crime designations validate victims. NPR also quoted Frank Lawrence, an attorney specializing in hate crimes, who said “it's important for victims of hate crimes to know that society recognizes the consequences beyond the crime itself.”
Whether the legislature’s newest attempt at passing hate crime legislation remains to be seen. However, given that the vast majority of states have some sort of bias crime legislation, it seems likely that Indiana will join their ranks eventually.
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