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A look at federal hate crime laws in wake of tragic shooting


From one end of the country to the other, you'd be hard pressed to find a person who did not hear about the tragic deaths of nine people who were killed in a South Carolina church just weeks ago. Called horrific by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, the tragedy calls to the nation's attention the issue of hate crimes and the penalties involved in committing such a crime.

For those here in Atlanta who don't know, federal law 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1)(B)(i) makes it illegal to use a firearm to kill another person based on the victim's race, color of their skin, religion or national origin. Such an action can result in imprisonment for life, depending on the circumstances, in addition to steep fines. These elements, which match the South Carolina shooting, are the reason why the accused man in this case could soon face federal charges if the Justice Department decides to take action.

As was pointed out by a New York Times article last month, not all states have hate-crime-specific laws. Georgia is not one of those states though, as all of our Atlanta readers should know. Following the actions of O.C.G.A § 17-10-17, Georgia courts are allowed to enforce stricter penalties against those who commit offenses deemed to be hate crimes. This could mean steeper fines or even the maximum sentence allowed by statute.

Though it's uncommon for the Justice Department to also file charges when both state and federal law can apply for a crime, circumstances may change depending on how the prosecutors view the crime. As in the case of the church shooting, the crime was considered to have been racially motivated, making it particularly horrendous in the eyes of the law. It's because of this that prosecutors in this case may seek maximum penalties against the accused, making it a necessity to obtain legal counsel.

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