According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, white supremacist hate crimes in LA rose by 67 percent last year. That, alone, is cause for concern but what happens when a Hispanic attorney is asked to defend a hate crime against an illegal (or legal) Mexican or a Jewish lawyer is asked to defend a hate crime against a Jew? How are First Amendment freedom of speech and hate crimes differentiated and are attorneys legally obligated to take those kinds of cases? There is a long history of hate crimes around the world and as a result, the United States has clearly defined what constitutes a crime and what constitutes hateful speech.
The Difference between Free Speech and Hate Crimes
While some people may find that there is no difference between hateful speech and a hate crime, the law is quite clear in most cases. The problem may be getting a jury to see the difference. First amendment rights only make it legal to say something without intention to act. That’s the simplest way to say it. For example, if someone says, “You are the scum of the earth because you are Mexican.” Or, if they say, “Germans had a right to hate the Jews in WWII. Jews are greedy and should never have been allowed to own businesses in Nazi Germany.”
Those are clearly just hateful statements. There is no intent implicit in those statements to do harm to Mexicans or Jews. However, had either of those statements gone even a bit further, they might fall within a grey area. If the statement ended with something like, “They should all die,” a jury just might construe that as intent to act. That one could go either way. But, if they said “I would like to stick them in the back with a knife,” or “Run their kids out of town.” Those are clearly statements of intent and, if found guilty, could face serious jail time.
Is a Lawyer Bound to Defend White Supremacist Hate Crimes?
Here is another matter which most people don’t quite understand. For the most part, no, an attorney doesn’t have to represent anyone unless their bias is discriminatory. However, hiring a criminal defense attorney typically means you will get an unbiased attorney who believes you are innocent until proven guilty, whether or not they know you are. They believe in our constitution, the very one they are trained to uphold and defend in a court of law, whether or not they feel the accused is guilty.
A good criminal defense attorney will not stoop to the level of those guilty of hateful speech or even white supremacist hate crimes. Because of the way in which our laws are set up, everyone has the right to legal counsel. Yes, it is still up to the Jewish lawyer whether or not he wants to take the case of a man who tried to burn down the local synagogue and the black lawyer can choose not to take a racially biased hate crime against a black person. But, a good defense attorney will typically follow a better level of ethics.
Conclusion: More Specialists in Hate Crimes Will Be Needed in the Coming Year
Our constitution says that you re innocent until proven guilty before a jury of your peers. If you are accused of a hate crime, find a defense attorney who believes in your rights. Whether or not you are guilty is another matter altogether. The rise in White Supremacist crimes in LA will now see a surge in criminal defense lawyers specializing in hate crimes. That is the logical conclusion here. It will be interesting to follow the 2017 statistics in 2018 to see if this prediction holds true.