Georgia General Assembly | Georgia Public Broadcasting

Georgia General Assembly, Copyright credit Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Georgia legislature passed a hate crimes bill on Tuesday that will allow stronger criminal penalties for anyone who targets a victim based on perceived race, color or another type of bias.

Under HB 426, any person who selects intentionally selects any victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability could be convicted of either a designated misdemeanor or a felony. If the offense is a designated misdemeanor, the defendant could be imprisoned anywhere between six to 12 months, and fined a maximum of $5,000. If the offense is a felony, the defendant could be imprisoned for at least two years and fined a maximum of $5,000.

The police officers will be also expected to prepare and submit a “Bias Crime Report” when investigating crimes in which the defendant appears to have intentionally selected victims based upon race, gender or other reasons. Even if an arrest is not made, the officer will have to submit the written report to the law enforcement officer’s supervisor or other designated person. The report will include the names, sex, gender, race and religion of the parties, along with other information deemed relevant to determine whether the crime was a result of bias. Regardless of whether an arrest is made, each incident will be reported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The amendment attempts to crystallize the nature of crime to qualify as “hate crime”. The bill restricts these crimes as battery, assault, criminal trespass and Misdemeanor. The amendment therefore covers minor crimes only.

The bill aims to amend existing Article 1 Chapter 10 of Title 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. The statement of object and reasons for bringing forth this amendment in the bill provides that the bill aims not only define a “hate crime” but also to put to rest the contrary definitions that had been existing pertaining to the said act. The bill aims at assisting the enforcement agencies to identify and then encourage victims of these crime to report to them as well as to provide the mechanism by which such acts could be sanctioned.

To amend Article 1 of Chapter 10 of Title 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to procedure for sentencing and imposition of punishment, so as to repeal certain provisions regarding the sentencing of defendants for crimes involving bias or prejudice; to provide criteria for imposition of punishment for defendants who select their victims based upon certain biases or prejudices; to provide the sanctions for such crimes; to provide a definition; to provide for reporting of bias motivated crimes and the attributes of the parties; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Unlike the laudable objectives stated in its object and reason the bill keeps the definition of “Hate Crimes” limited to only certain forms of simple minor crimes such as assault, misdemeanor etc.. when experience suggests that any criminal act has the potential of  been motivated on some form of bias against a particular group. The constrains on the definition therefore is a big spoiler and inhibits the effectiveness of the amendment as well as the purpose which the bill had set to achieve that being to prevent “Hate Crimes”.

The Georgia State Senate passed the bill by a vote of 47-6. The bill then passed the Georgia House by a vote of 127-38

See the bill.