Anti-gay attack in Galveston highlights issues with hate crimes law

Posted on 03 Mar 2009 at 9:01am

Three men have been arrested on hate crimes charges for hurling doorstops into a Galveston gay bar on Sunday night, leaving one victim with 12 staples in the back of his head. You can read coverage in The Galveston County Daily News here.

The suspects, two teenagers and a 20-year-old, are charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and the district attorney’s office has already OK’d a hate crimes enhancement. The interesting thing about this is that aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a first-degree felony, meaning that the hate crimes enhancement CANNOT result in a longer prison sentence. Under Texas law, a hate crimes finding bumps a third-degree felony up to a second-degree felony, or a second-degree felony up to a first-degree felony. However, if the crime is already a first-degree felony, there is no “bump up” available.

Coincidentally, the Galveston attack occurred on the eve of a trial in the beating of Jimmy Lee Dean in Dallas, a case that highlights the exact same issue. Dean’s alleged attackers are charged with first-degree felony aggravated robbery, but in his case the Dallas County DA’s Office chose not to seek a hate-crime enhancement. The DA’s Office argued that filing the case as a hate crime wouldn’t make sense because it wouldn’t lead to a longer sentence but could increase their burden of proof during the sentencing phase.

All this seems to focus even more attention on a bill that’s been filed in this year’s state legislative session by Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. The bill, backed by Equality Texas, calls for a study of Texas’ hate crimes act to determine why it isn’t being used more often. In the eight years since the act was passed, there have been only nine hate-crimes prosecutions statewide. This is despite the fact that thousands of cases have been classified as hate crimes by police. And keep in mind that these statistics include not only anti-gay hate crimes, but also all of the other protected classes including race.

To learn more about Veasey’s bill, which is said to have decent chance of passing, go to www.equalitytexas.org. If the bill does pass, it would be the first pro-LGBT equality legislation to do so since the hate crimes act itself.

CORRECTION: Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a second-degree felony, so the hate crimes enhancement will bump up the charge to a first-degree felony. If it were already a first-degree felony, it’s likely that the enhancement wouldn’t be filed.

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