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Author Topic: "Atheist claims assult was 'hate crime'"
Eaquae Legit
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quote:
Should an assault on an atheist activist be prosecuted as a religious hate crime? After being attacked at Ryerson university last Tuesday, Justin Trottier thinks so.

"They should be prosecuted the same as if a member of a religious minority had been targeted," said the 24-year-old U of T graduate of the two young men he said attacked him. "I just want consistency."

Trottier, a leader of the Freethought Association of Canada and an outspoken atheist, said he was assaulted on Tuesday night as he and a colleague, Peter Aruja, were hanging posters advertising a lecture by Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis.

Two men approached them and asked for a poster. Trottier said that he and his friend gave them one and continued walking. He alleges that the man who took the poster mumbled under his breath and threw the poster to the ground, at which Trottier yelled back, "You could have recycled that."

Twenty minutes later, the two men approached Trottier in the tunnels underneath the university. He recalled the men being out of breath, as if they had been running. Trottier claims the two men initiated a fight.

"The first individual smacked me in the face twice and said 'watch your smart mouth.' I said, 'Don't touch me,' at which point he head-butted me hard in the face.

remainder of article

I've heard a number of atheists here and elsewhere claiming that their atheism isn't a religious position. My main question is directed at those particular atheists, but everyone is welcome to reply. Do you agree that being assaulted because of your atheism can be called a hate crime under the "religious" definition?

"Hate crime" is a pretty specific legal definition, and in this particular case, I'm hesitant to extend it to Mr Trottier. The link between the subject of the posters and the assault is tenuous. My reading of the event is more along the lines that if you yell at people on the street at night, they might get ticked, and it's good to have some kung fu in your back pocket. It's just one of those things, and it doesn't need to have religion involved at all. The assailant telling him to "watch his smart mouth" seems to support that.

But then, I wasn't there. And if Mr Trottier can prove they roughed him up specifically because of his atheism, then I think it could be called a hate crime. I tend to think of atheism as a religious position like any other, and therefore that it should be protected like any other.

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katharina
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I dislike all "hate crime" laws. It is punishing thought and not the crime.
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Eaquae Legit
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I'm an ambiguous fan of them at best, but I'm more interested in whether or not this particular incident could even be considered one.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
I dislike all "hate crime" laws. It is punishing thought and not the crime.

I agree.
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Dagonee
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Based on the events as described, it's hard to see how they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this was motivated by (edit: the victim's) atheism - their assailant's words related to perceived slights and rudeness. I think it's likely that this was the result of or exacerbated by hostility to the religious viewpoint on the posters, but I don't see that as beyond a reasonable doubt absent a lot more evidence.

********

Ignoring my opinion on hate crimes in general, I think that IF we have them for religious beliefs, we need to apply them to atheism/agnosticism.

In general, the statement/belief "There is no God" should be subject to the same free exercise protections and same establishment restrictions as the Nicene Creed. (Of course, this incident occurred in Canada, so those distinctions don't apply the same way, but the principle is the same.)

I've received a good deal of disagreement about treating atheism as a religion in the legal sense in threads past, but I think it has to be this way to establish a fair legal construct regarding religious freedom and neutrality.

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Icarus
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I'm not a fan of hate crime laws, but if you're going to have them, then yes, this sounds like a hate crime.
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Paul Goldner
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There is a difference between a religion, and a religous belief, and a religious practice. Atheism is a belief that relates to religion. I certainly wouldn't say that I "practice atheism," and it is certainly not my religion. But the nature of my answer to the particular question of religion "Is there a god?" is answering a religious question in the negative.

How that fits in with the law, I don't know. But I think that the distinction between a religious belief, and a religion, is generally an important one.

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twinky
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Section 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada covers this.
quote:
718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(a) a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing,

(i) evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,

(ii) evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused the offender’s spouse or common-law partner,

(ii.1) evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a person under the age of eighteen years,

(iii) evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim,

(iv) evidence that the offence was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization, or

(v) evidence that the offence was a terrorism offence

shall be deemed to be aggravating circumstances;

Based on the article's description of events, I agree with the first paragraph of Dagonee's post. I doubt 718.2(a)(i) will apply in sentencing, if this even gets that far.
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The Pixiest
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quote:

or any other similar factor

Sounds like it applies to me.
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twinky
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quote:
Originally posted by The Pixiest:
quote:

or any other similar factor

Sounds like it applies to me.
Based on the article, I don't think there's evidence that the assault was motivated by the victim's atheism rather than his purported "smart mouth."
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
I dislike all "hate crime" laws. It is punishing thought and not the crime.

In our legal system, we punish people differently depending on the motives associated with the crime. If someone kills you with their car because they weren't watching where they were going, they will be charged with negligent vehicular homicide. If they run you down because you were swearing at them, they will likely be charged with 2nd degree murder. If your ex-boy friend waits outside your place of employment until you walk out the door and then steps on the gas and runs you down, he will hopefully be charged with 1st degree murder.

In all three cases thr act is the same and the outcome is the same. Is our criminal justice system flawed because it considers what the car driver was thinking to be relevant in deciding the punishment for the crime?

I doubt many people would make that argument for anything but hate crimes. We recognize that motives for a crime are important in considering punishment because they are a good indication of the severity of the crime and the likelihood that the perpetrator will commit further crimes.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I've heard a number of atheists here and elsewhere claiming that their atheism isn't a religious position. My main question is directed at those particular atheists, but everyone is welcome to reply. Do you agree that being assaulted because of your atheism can be called a hate crime under the "religious" definition?
Atheism isn't a religion. It IS, however, a "religious position." There is an enormous difference.

If it is more illegal to target someone for violence because of their religious position or belief then atheists should also be protected under this legislation. Of course, the dubious wisdom of hate crime legislation itself is an open question.

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Javert
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
[QUOTE]In all three cases thr act is the same and the outcome is the same. Is our criminal justice system flawed because it considers what the car driver was thinking to be relevant in deciding the punishment for the crime?

There should definitely be a differentiation between accidental killing and intentional killing. But I don't see why there needs to be a difference of punishment between, for example, "I ran him down because of his religion/race/etc" and "I ran him down because he looked at me funny".
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Icarus
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But in hate crimes versus other crimes of the same nature, the motive is pretty much the same. I beat you up because I hate you; I beat you up because you're Mormon; I beat you up because I hate you because you're Mormon. It's really not analogous to manslaughter versus murder.

I think hate crime legislation can all-too-easily be used as a way to give special groups more protection than others enjoy.

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Paul Goldner
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"I think hate crime legislation can all-too-easily be used as a way to give special groups more protection than others enjoy."

It can be. It shouldn't, though. And whether or not it can be used badly is no reason to say its bad legislation to have. Almost ANY legislation can be abused. The goal is to write it to minimize abuses.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by twinky:
]Based on the article, I don't think there's evidence that the assault was motivated by the victim's atheism rather than his purported "smart mouth."

Its hard to make any judgement based on the limited information given in a newpaper article. There are items reported, however, which seem counter to the idea that the victim was attacked fom his purported "smart mouth". I think it was significant that the attack occurred twenty minutes after the original exchange which indicates this wasn't just a flair of tempers. How many people who've been yelled at to "recycle that" would be angry about it 20 minutes later to assault someone? Heck even if the exchange went way beyond "You could have recycled that" and actually include a more violent exchange it just isn't typical for people who are angry about such an exchange to wait 20 minutes and then ambush their victim.

Second, at least one person who presumably knew more about the attack than we do said that their was no doubt that this guy was attacked because of his beliefs.

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Jutsa Notha Name
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I'm going to agree with Dagonee's original post. This does not seem to bear enough of the criteria to count it as a hate crime. That doesn't mean there couldn't be a case involving someone who is atheist as a victim where it would constitute a hate crime, but this event does not look like one.
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Icarus
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quote:
Originally posted by Paul Goldner:
Almost ANY legislation can be abused. The goal is to write it to minimize abuses.

*nod* How about this: we make it illegal to assault people, and we don't worry about why the perp didn't like the victim?
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Paul Goldner
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No, sorry, I think motive is a major element of why people commit crimes.

If the goal is to punish people more harshly for worse crimes, I think assaulting someone who is black BECAUSE he isblack is a worse crime, since it is not only assault, but terrorism.

If the goal is to prevent people from committing a crime by seperating them from society, its more likely that a person who assaults a black person for being black is going to assault someone when he gets out of jail (likely a black person) so in order to prevent those crimes, a longer sentence is necessary.

The alternative to fitting punishment to crime is having the same punishment for every crime, and I don't think thats a reasonable way of running a justice system, if we want any semblance of justice.

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El JT de Spang
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Motive is only important as it relates to intent. That's why the car analogy is no good.

If the intent is to do bodily harm, then I don't think it should particularly matter why the harm is being caused. The fact is that it's assault, and that it's intentional, is enough for me.
quote:
If the goal is to punish people more harshly for worse crimes, I think assaulting someone who is black BECAUSE he isblack is a worse crime, since it is not only assault, but terrorism.
I agree with the sentiment, but I think, in practice, it's too hard to prove and too easy to abuse. That, to me, makes it an unfair tradeoff.

*Example -- say that assault motivated by race makes up 20% of all total assaults (a number which, I feel sure, is waaay off), and yet it makes up 35% of all assault charges. That's a huge abuse of the law. Not saying those numbers are at all representative, but I wouldn't be surprised.

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Dagonee
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quote:
In our legal system, we punish people differently depending on the motives associated with the crime. If someone kills you with their car because they weren't watching where they were going, they will be charged with negligent vehicular homicide. If they run you down because you were swearing at them, they will likely be charged with 2nd degree murder. If your ex-boy friend waits outside your place of employment until you walk out the door and then steps on the gas and runs you down, he will hopefully be charged with 1st degree murder.

In all three cases thr act is the same and the outcome is the same. Is our criminal justice system flawed because it considers what the car driver was thinking to be relevant in deciding the punishment for the crime?

(Rabbit, this isn't a refutation of your post - your post is just the one that inspired me to write this.)

First, a minor clarification in terms: you are speaking of intent, not motive. If I shoot someone because they stole my car, my intent was to kill, my motive was the theft of the car.

Second, a brief (really, it's brief) summary of how mental state is used in crime.

There are four types of elements in the definitions of crime: conduct, circumstance, result, and, mental element (mens rea or culpability).

One breakdown of the mental element is the one from the model penal code: purpose, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence. The mental elements apply to the conduct, circumstance, and result elements.

Purpose means the actor has the conscious object to engage in the conduct or cause a result or knows, believes, or hopes that circumstances exist.

Knowledge is the awareness that that conduct is of the nature described in the statute (he does not have to know of the statute, just that he's driving, for example), awareness that the circumstances as described in the statute exist, or awareness that it is practically certain that the conduct in question will cause a result. If person has a knowledge that there was a high probability of a fact's existence, he will be deemed to have knowledge.

Recklessness is the conscious disregard that a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct and circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a law-abiding person would observe in the actor’s situation.

Negligence is essentially the same as recklessness, but the actor does not have to be aware - if he should have been aware, he will be deemed negligent.

I also need to distinguish between elements of crimes and mitigating/aggravating circumstances.

Elements go to crime definition and must always be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If an element doesn't exist, no crime was committed (or, possibly, a different crime was committed - a so called "lesser included").

Mitigating/aggravating factors don't affect the determination of what crime was committed. They effect sentencing. Twinky's post on Canadian law seems to reference aggravating factors.

Here's where it gets tricky. Most states implemented hate crimes not as new crimes, but rather as aggravating factors of existing crimes. The typically allowed for increasing the minimum or maximum sentence if the judge found (usually by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt) that the crime was motivated by bias against a protected group or classification. This was at least partly motivated by a long-standing suspicion of motives (as opposed to intent) being the elements of a crime.

For example, if the jury convicted the defendant of assault, the judge might make a formal ruling that the crime was motivated by racism. Assault might have a sentencing range of 0 to 24 months in jail; the judge's finding might change that to a range of 0 to 3, 1 to 2, or 1 to 4.

The first raised the maximum sentence, the second raised the minimum, and the third raised both. This went along for several years until Apprendi, in which SCOTUS ruled 5-4 that raising the maximum sentence based on facts not found beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury (or judge in bench trials) violated the constitution. Think how bad it would be if assault was the crime charged, and the judge could give life instead of 1 year if the judge - not the jury - found by only a preponderance of the evidence that the assault resulted in death.

Things got more complicated when the Court later ruled that increases in the minimum sentence could be supported by judge-found facts. (If anyone is interested in the reasoning used by Scalia - the swing vote - to reach this conclusion, I wrote a 20-page paper on the topic I'd be happy to send them [Wink] ).

The upshot is that anything that increases the maximum sentence to which a defendant can be subjected is now defined as an element, even if the legislature called it a sentencing factor.

What this means is that hate crimes based on aggravating factors as opposed to elements are constitutional if they only increase the minimum sentence, but are not constitutional if they increase the maximum sentence.

(Obviously, the latter part of this explanation is U.S. specific.)

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Dagonee
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By the way, it's perfectly constitutional still for a legislature to make a crime have a wide sentencing range and list factors for the judge to consider.

For example, murder might be punishable by 0 years to life, and the judge might be instructed to consider a number of factors, including motive. As long as the judge can sentence any defendant convicted of murder to the highest sentence, none of the rest applies.

Also, prior criminal convictions can increase maximum sentences without jury-found facts - this is an artifact of some unusual decisions and the Court's reluctance to actually overturn precedent.

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fugu13
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I would be interested in seeing that 20 page paper [Smile] .
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Qaz
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The student said they told him to shut his smart mouth, which is not a religious comment.

So far all we have is an uncorroborated claim with few details and none that suggest "hate crime." It's possible but there is no evidence for it yet.

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Dagonee
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Here's the link, fugu.

Be kind concerning grammar and spelling errors - it was the last thing I did, finished after an all-nighter. [Smile]

Oh, and it was 30, not 20 pages.

Anyone is welcome to read it. Please download it for personal reading only and do not circulate it.

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Jutsa Notha Name
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Thank you, that looks very interesting! [Smile]
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David Bowles
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While I don't like a separate "hate crime" category for every single crime out there, I can totally live with a "First Degree Assault" or something along those lines for premeditated beatings of people for no other motive beyond hatred or dislike.

As an atheist, I certainly would want anyone beating me for my atheism to get punished in the harshest possible way...

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Chris Bridges
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The justification for that crimes is usually borne from the deep conviction that angry bigots needs to get slapped down hard. Frankly, I find myself wanting to agree.

However, I think it is better in the long run, for everyone involved, to treat it simply (!) as assault or murder or whatever, and not add penalities just to get the point across. Violence against others is wrong and should be punished; you don't get to hit somebody just because they bug you. But that lesson should be applied evenly across the board.

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Bokonon
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quote:
Originally posted by Icarus:
quote:
Originally posted by Paul Goldner:
Almost ANY legislation can be abused. The goal is to write it to minimize abuses.

*nod* How about this: we make it illegal to assault people, and we don't worry about why the perp didn't like the victim?
I disagree, I think it should be considered as an aggravating factor in sentencing, but shouldn't be a separate type of crime itself. Someone who hates Christians, and is willing to kill one based on this hatred, is more dangerous than someone who kills in a fit of passion (someone finding their spouse in bed with another person). Their sentences shouldn't necessarily be the same.

-Bok

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Dagonee
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quote:
I disagree, I think it should be considered as an aggravating factor in sentencing, but shouldn't be a separate type of crime itself. Someone who hates Christians, and is willing to kill one based on this hatred, is more dangerous than someone who kills in a fit of passion (someone finding their spouse in bed with another person). Their sentences shouldn't necessarily be the same.
Bok, I agree with your conclusion concerning who should have the greater sentence. But killing in a fit of passion is a separate crime (manslaughter v. murder), not an aggravating factor.

In some states, it's actually a mitigating affirmative defense to the crime of murder, but the net effect is still the defendant being convicted of a different crime.

Also, most crimes have tremendously wide ranges of sentencing available to the judge, so making two things the same crime does not mean that most convictions result in similar sentences.

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ClaudiaTherese
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We've had a discussion of hate crimes before, and the group was invited to consider whether they would view the appropriate punishment as differing in (something like) the following two scenarios:

1) Swastikas spray-painted on the side of a synagogue
2) Random images spray-painted on a typical brick wall

Is there something about #1 which is different from #2 in a way that is relevant to sentencing?

I will try to find the thread. I don't recall where people ended up, but I do remember it was interesting.

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Glenn Arnold
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I gotta say that I don't see any motive other than hatred of atheism. I don't beleive that someone would hunt a guy down to start a fight 20 minutes later because the guy told him he should have recycled a poster. And I don't see any other possible reason from the events listed in the article.

That said, I don't see any way to prove that it was because of atheism. You'd need a confession or something. I'd be curious to know that the attacker said under his breath while looking at the poster.

What it comes down to in my mind is that Justin Trottier was there, and has a distinct impression of his attacker's motive. He's entitled to believe that it's a hate crime, and I don't think it's reasonable to tell him it's not. But I don't hold much hope for a conviction.

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TL
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quote:
I dislike all "hate crime" laws. It is punishing thought and not the crime.
I also agree.
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King of Men
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I don't know what you would consider "relevant to sentencing", but there does exist one clear difference: The swastikas are maliciously chosen to be hurtful and threatening; your average graffiti is not. Getting away from the synagogue for a moment and considering two possible messages to be sprayed onto a private home, it does seem to me that I want "I am going to kill you" to be more harshly punished than "Kilroy was here". Neither one is something I want on my walls, but the first is much more unpleasant.
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ClaudiaTherese
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Ah. It was a graveyard, not a synagogue.

Convince Me that I'm Wrong About Hate Crimes (Tante Shvester)

Some people seemed to have rethought the issue while discussing it in this thread. I think it's worth a read.

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Reshpeckobiggle
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I'm mixed on the idea of a hate crime, because I see where it makes sense, but I also have questions about the motivations behind designating something a hate crime.

Does anyone know if an athiest attcks someone because he is a Christian constitutes a hate crime? I've been led to believe that one of the defining characteristics of a hate crime is that the victim must be a member of a minority.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Does anyone know if an athiest attcks someone because he is a Christian constitutes a hate crime? I've been led to believe that one of the defining characteristics of a hate crime is that the victim must be a member of a minority.
As I understand it, none of the hate crime laws specifiy that you must be the member of minority. They specify that the crime was motivated by one of a number of things such as race, religion or sexual preference. So unless there is some thing in the laws that renders their plane meaning inaccurate, if a Christian were beaten up because of their beliefs by an athiest (or a buddhist or any one else), it could be prosecuted as a hate crime.
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Dagonee
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That is my understanding as well, Rabbit. (Not confirmed via research, just my general exposure to them.)
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AvidReader
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Thanks for the explanation, Dag. I like that it affects the minimum sentence, not the guilt or innocence itself.

I do think hate crime legislation sounds funny when they talk about it. Somehow it always sounds like folks are getting away with murder if they use the defense that the other guy was black or something and we need to close this loophole.

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Juxtapose
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quote:
posted by Dagonee:
But killing in a fit of passion is a separate crime (manslaughter v. murder), not an aggravating factor.

I was under the impression that killing in a fit of passion would constitute 2nd degree murder, not manslaughter. Have I misunderstood you, or am I holding a misconception?

EDIT - Checking Wikipedia, it seems I have been holding a misconception. Killing in passion is considered voluntary manslaughter, whereas 2nd degree murder (in some US states) is non pre-meditated killing. I confess that that I fail to see how killing in a fit of passion doesn't fall into the category of "non pre-meditated killing". Perhaps this is a case of different definitions in different areas.

[ April 05, 2007, 08:38 AM: Message edited by: Juxtapose ]

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Dagonee
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quote:
whereas 2nd degree murder (in some US states) is non pre-meditated killing.
The bullet summary of the Pennsylvania scheme is inaccurate in that wiki article. Second degree is all murder that is not first degree. First degree had special circumstances, including premeditation and whether another crime was being committed.

"Murder" is a term of art and does not mean "killing." At common law, which is where Pennsylvania derived the definition, "murder" means "killing with malice aforethought," which is quite different from premeditation.

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Juxtapose
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I think I understand now. Thanks for the clarification.
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