Hate crime laws designate certain criminal offenses for enhanced sentencing. These offenses are committed based upon race, national origin, or other similar biases the perpetrator has against the victim of the crime. Georgia is one of only five states which do not have designated hate crimes written into state criminal statutes. Now, state lawmakers are considering amendments to the Georgia criminal statutes which would change that. Learn more about sentencing under current Georgia criminal laws and the proposed changes, as well as your rights to defend yourself from such aggravated sentencing. An experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney can help persons accused of hate crimes protect their constitutional rights throughout the case process.
Hate Crimes Under Current Georgia Law – And How That Might Change
WCTV spoke with the Lowndes County District Attorney about the proposed changes to hate crime sentencing in Georgia. Currently, a prosecutor can only access enhanced (or aggravated) sentencing if he or she serves notice of bias to the defendant. The judge or jury must then determine whether bias existed in the commission of the crime. If bias is found, the defendant’s sentence can be enhanced by up to fifty percent.
Under the proposed amendments to Georgia’s criminal statutes, new crimes would be created. These hate crimes would be defined with longer sentences. A prosecutor would, therefore, be able to charge a defendant with a hate crime subject to longer sentencing, and not have to attempt to serve notice and admit evidence of bias to the jury. Many believe that this will make it easier for prosecutors to charge and convict defendants of hate crimes. The proposed changes are still under review by committees of the Georgia Legislature and have not yet been sent to the full Legislature for a vote.
What Rights Does a Defendant Have When Charged with Bias?
Defendants have the right to challenge any aggravating sentencing factors – including bias. Under the current law, a defendant may challenge the notice of bias which was improperly served, or evidence of bias which was improperly admitted to the jury. Even if the proposed amendments become effective, a defendant may still challenge the admissibility of evidence of bias which is submitted to a jury. The prosecutor will still bear the burden of proving the element of bias which is written into new criminal offenses, and a defendant may challenge this like any other element of a crime.
If new hate crime laws take effect, there is also the potential for confusion about the applicability of old versus new statutes. This occurs any time a new statute takes effect. It is important that defendants be charged under the appropriate statute, and not unfairly punished under laws which were not effective at the time of the alleged offense. An experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney can help defendants ensure that these rights are protected during periods of change to criminal statutes.
Aggressive Defense Of All Criminal Charges
Any time a change is implemented to existing criminal laws, defendants face the possibility of being targeted by improper enforcement of the law. Protect your legal rights during any criminal case proceedings with the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorney Stidham has decades of experience in asserting and defending the constitutional rights of defendants across Georgia. Call 678-889-7953 today to schedule your free consultation.