Ga. Supreme Court Strikes Down Hate Crimes Law

The Georgia Supreme Court threw out the state’s hate crime law Monday on grounds that it was “unconstitutionally vague.”

Provisions for Georgia’s hate crime law would have added two years to a six-year jail sentence for white man and woman, Angela Pisciotta and Christopher Botts, convicted of badly beating two black brothers, Che and Idris Golden. Pisciotta and Botts were accused of screaming racial epithets during their beating.

A hate crime, according to the state’s law, is any crime in which the victim was chosen based on “bias or prejudice.”

All justices on the seven-judge panel voted in favor of the appeal from Pisciotta and Botts’ lawyers who argued any law involving prejudice would be classified as a hate crime.

In a court opinion, Justice Robert Benham wrote the law could apply to prejudice-invoked crimes of any degree, “no matter how obscure, whimsical or unrelated to the victim.”

He wrote that under the law, even a rabid sports fan “uttering terroristic threats to a victim selected for wearing a competing team's baseball cap” would be convicted as committing a hate crime.

In spite of its ruling, the court wrote that "by no means" does its decision condone the "savage attack ... or any conduct motivated by a bigoted or hate-filled point of view."

Out of 48 states with a hate crime law, Georgia is the only state that doesn’t specify groups considered as victims. The original bill proposing the hate crime legislation included race, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or sexual orientation, but disputes over the sexual orientation category of the bill resulted in a broad definition of a hate crime.

Earlier this month, the House conference committee decided to strip an amendment from the 2005 Defense Authorization Bill that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include homosexuals.

Pro-family groups fear that hate crimes legislation which include sexual orientation as a protected class of victims would limit free speech among religious leaders who express opposing views to homosexuality.