How Georgia Hate Crime Laws are Being Put to the Test

Over the past couple of months, Asian Americans across the United States have seen an increase in violence towards them. These disturbing crimes have been theorized to stem from the anti-Asian rhetoric driven by former President Trump as well as others who blame them for the economic and health issues caused by COVID-19. Understandably, much attention has been given to this very serious issue, especially when it comes to the hate crime laws that many have said are failing to protect minorities. However, this topic has gained additional national attention as the state of Georgia just witnessed one of its most horrific murders when a white man in Atlanta killed six Asian women.

Asian Leaders Question Investigation

One of the first statements from the accused gunman, Robert Aaron Long, was that the murders of the six Asian women were not racially motivated and instead driven by sexual addiction. Law enforcement stated that the gunman attacked what he thought was the temptation. They followed up that statement by saying that the investigation on his motive was still under review. This, however, was not a good enough answer for Asian-American community leaders in Atlanta. They are today asking for authorities to bring hate crime charges on the accused gunman.

The Issue with Georgia Hate Crime Law

When people hear that a state has hate crime laws in their books, they will usually believe that a person will be charged with a hate crime if they intentionally commit an act of violence against someone because of their race. However, the recent events in Atlanta have discovered a serious flaw in the hate crime laws within the state. According to Georgia state law, a person may be charged with a hate crime only as a secondary charge. That means that a person must commit a first crime before even being allowed to be charged with a hate crime. A former prosecutor at the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, Pete Skandalakis, stated that “It's not something you get arrested for. It's a sentence enhancer.”

How Covid has Affected the Laws

The calls of change for the injustice being seen throughout the United States during the summer of 2020 caused legislation to be introduced in Georgia. However, the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the challenges it was met with within the courts. This, of course, meant that during this entire time, those laws had not been practiced, and this may be the first time the Georgia hate crime laws are tested. As of now, if a jury finds the defendant guilty of the first crime, the prosecutors can then introduce evidence in order to add a hate crime charge. If the defendant is found guilty of that, then they are fined $5,000 and given a two-year prison sentence.

U.S. Department of Justice Stepping in Soon?

Although the investigation is still pending, many are calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and begin their own investigation on the matter. However, federal investigators have stated that they have not yet found any indication that the murders were race-related. However, if they do eventually find evidence, they are legally allowed to bring federal hate crime charges on the accused gunman. At the moment, there is no further information on his motive as investigators are ordered not to make any statements regarding the investigation just yet.

Not Worth Adding Hate Crime Charges?

At the moment, Lone is the apparent gunman that killed the six women. This charge alone means that it's highly likely that he will never be allowed to leave prison again. That is because the state of Georgia has a minimum sentence of life in prison for murder. Some have argued that those charges alone mean that it's not worth going after hate crime charges as it will only delay the trial and cost the taxpayers of Georgia even more. However, one of the legislators who initially introduced/supported the bill, Republican state Rep. Chuck Efstration, stated that it's the principle of the matter. That the state must add this charge because it is important to call things for what they are. In addition, it also brings peace to the family of those affected by the murders.

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