Legal Analyst Discusses Georgia Hate Crimes Bill, Why It Would Differ From Federal Law

A protester holds up a fist near the Georgia Capitol during a demonstration Monday.
A protester holds up a fist near the Georgia Capitol during a demonstration Monday.
Credit Brynn Anderson / Associated Press

A state hate crimes bill stalled before getting much traction in the Georgia Senate last year.

But the conversation around hate crimes and violence against black people specifically is a much different dialogue today than it was even just one year ago.

Now, lawmakers are giving the legislation top priority as it reconvenes following a hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston said if Georgia doesn’t pass the bill into law, “It will be a stain on this state that we can never wash away.”

WABE legal analyst Page Pate joined WABE’s “All Things Considered” host, Jim Burress, over the telephone.

Burress began the conversation with Pate by stating there is a federal hate crimes law, which some have argued is why Georgia doesn’t need its own hate crimes law. Burress continued the conversation by asking Pate, What makes this law different?

Pate replied, “The main reason that Georgia would need a separate hate crimes law is that the federal government doesn’t prosecute everyone for a hate crime. They are very selective in the cases that they accept. This would allow Georgia prosecutors to move forward with those cases that otherwise would not make it on the radar of the federal government and pursue hate-enhanced crimes penalties.”

Pate also explained the “enhancement of penalties.” He said the House bill has penalties that basically are in a separate sentencing section that requires some prison time for different crimes as long as the intent was motivated by hate. He added he thinks it’s important to remember that just because you have the potential for enhanced penalties, it doesn’t mean it’s going to make a difference when the crime is prosecuted.

As a lawyer, Pate said, politics is taking over the discussion.

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