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10th Circuit Upholds Hate Crime Conviction

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By Betty Wang, JD on July 11, 2013 1:01 PM

The Tenth Circuit has upheld a hate crime conviction of a Fruitland man, William Hatch, 31. Hatch and two other co-defendants were the first people in this country to be charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

In April 2010, a mentally disabled Navajo man, identified as “V.K.” in court records, encountered the three defendants at the restaurant where they worked. The three men then convinced V.K. to go back to one of the man’s apartment, where they drew satanic and anti-homosexual images on his back. They also shaved a swastika shape into his hair, and heated a wire hanger on the stove and used that to brand a swastika into V.K.’s arm.

The three men were charged with a number of crimes, including kidnapping and aggravated battery. But, on top of that, the federal government also charged them with violating the Hate Crimes Act, which makes racially motivated attacks unlawful. Hatch then contended, in district court, that the use of the Hate Crimes Act was unconstitutional and that Congress lacked the authority.

The district court found otherwise, and agreed with the government. The federal government used the Thirteenth Amendment as justification for their charge. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but also granted Congress broad authority where necessary to achieve this purpose.

While the Thirteenth Amendment's initial purpose was to rid the country of slavery, case precedent has also allowed it to further affirm Congress's power to legislate against any "badges and incidents" of slavery as well. Racially motivated crimes, it seems, would fall into this category.

Specifically, the district court cited the Supreme Court case Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer, which involves a housing discrimination incident where Congress was deemed the power to determine what those badges and incidents were.

The Hate Crimes Act and the court relied on the notion that Congress reaches their conclusion by considering the meaning of "race" within the context of the Thirteenth Amendment, the attacker(s) state of mind, and the attack itself to determine whether or not the acts of violence are a badge or incident of slavery. The district court found this was allowed, this abided by the authority of the Supreme Court and the Hate Crimes Act, and therefore convicted Hatch under the statute.

The Tenth Circuit saw no reason to find otherwise, and affirmed.

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