The wheels of the criminal justice system turn slowly. That’s certainly what everyone involved in a 2019 fight in downtown Austin must be thinking as the case finally came to a conclusion two years later with plea deals for three of the four men accused of assaulting a gay couple.
Soon after the fight, the victims of the assault and the Austin LGBT community began to characterize the incident as a hate crime because the victims are gay. But the investigating detective believed otherwise. He said the fight started when two of the men accidentally bumped shoulders in passing along the sidewalk and someone heard a racial comment muttered by one of the victims.
That led to a beat-down.
The victims say hate crime laws in Texas need to be enhanced. But in this case, attorneys didn’t think that a jury, upon seeing the evidence, would conclude that the victims were chosen because of anti-gay bias.
What is Texas’ Hate Crime Law?
You’ll find the Texas hate crime law in the Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 42.014.
- The hate crime law applies to certain kinds of crimes – crimes against a person (like assault), against property (arson, graffiti), or criminal mischief.
- The party responsible for determining guilt or innocence – the jury or the judge – is responsible for determining if a hate crime occurred.
- They will decide if the victim, or the victim’s property, was targeted for injury or damage because of a defendant’s hatred, bias or prejudice against the victim due to his/her “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, sexual preference, or status as a peace officer or judge.” The motivation must be explicit.
If the judge or jury agrees it was a hate crime, then the sentencing judge can enhance the level of punishment by one degree. A Class B misdemeanor would become a Class A misdemeanor and the penalties would increase.
But a Class A misdemeanor does not get bumped up to a felony. Instead, for Class A misdemeanors, jail time is increased. Felonies already carry a potential penalty of life in prison so punishment is not enhanced.
Another unique aspect of a hate crime is that federal prosecutors can choose to prosecute these cases instead of the state prosecutor. Anyone found guilty on federal charges of causing or attempting to cause injury because of a person’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or disability can face up to 10 years in prison as well as fines. (Federal categories differ from state categories.) If the crime is murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, attempting kidnapping, attempted or aggravated sexual abuse, the federal penalty can be life in prison.
A Plea Deal for Assault
Four men were charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a serious charge that could result in a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In the end, three men pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault with a hate crime finding, and one man’s charges were dismissed. The three were sentenced to time served, two years on probation, 50 hours of community service, anger management counseling and they are prohibited from the downtown area for two years.
From 20 years to time served… why the reduced punishment? Because their lawyer negotiated a plea deal. The victims agreed to it because it was important to them that there be a finding that this was a hate crime.
Even when a criminal case looks grim, there may still be options. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate on your behalf. If you are facing criminal charges for assault, aggravated assault, or assault with a deadly weapon, contact The Maddox Law Firm: 972-373-3635.