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Sep 25, 2012

Amish case demonstrates danger of hate crimes laws

The Amish have a longstanding reputation for non-violence, which was torn apart recently by a series of assaults.  A sect led by Samuel Mullet Sr was responsible for invading homes of rivals, assaulting them and cutting off the hair and beards of their victims.  To Amish, long hair and beards are part of their religious observance.

Normally the charges relating to the offences described would be quite serious and would result in slammer time.  On this occasion though, the federal government decided to get in on the act with charges of ‘hate crimes’ added to the mix.  NYT feels that the guilty verdicts were a ‘vindication’ of this action: 
The convictions of Mr. Mullet, along with several relatives and others from his settlement who carried out the assaults, could bring lengthy prison terms. The verdicts were a vindication for federal prosecutors, who made a risky decision to apply a 2009 federal hate-crimes law to the sect’s violent efforts to humiliate Amish rivals.
Defense lawyers in the case and an independent legal expert had argued that the government was overreaching by turning a personal vendetta within the Amish community, and related attacks, into a federal hate-crimes case. But the jury accepted the prosecutors’ description of the attacks as an effort to suppress the victims’ practice of religion, finding Mr Mullet and the other defendants guilty on nearly all the charges they faced of conspiracy, hate crimes and obstruction of justice. … 
… The defendants did not deny their roles in the attacks, which were carried out with battery-powered clippers, scissors and razor-sharp shears that are designed to trim horse manes. Rather, the case turned on the motives for the attacks and whether it was appropriate to make them into a major federal case under a 2009 hate-crimes law. 
To prove the most serious charges, the jurors had to be convinced that the defendants had caused “bodily injury,” which could mean “disfigurement,” and that the attacks were based mainly on religious differences. …
The idea of ‘hate crimes’ has come into being because governments have been persuaded that some victims, mainly minorities in ethnicity, faith, sexual preferences, etc, possess a greater degree of victimhood than others.  In such cases politicians believe that any thoughts that can be assumed to be running through the head of the perpetrator should be punished severely.  Essentially, a ‘hate crime’ is similar to a thought crime.
The result of the perceived thoughts that may have been in play during these offences is that where the penalty would have been several years behind bars, depending on the discretion of the court, it is suggested that the defendants could end up doing decades in prison.  The action of the government in insisting on this is damn near as weird as the actions of the perpetrators, given that the whole thing was little more than a religious argument between fellow cult members that got out of hand.
In any case, the assertion by NYT that the guilty verdict 'vindicates the action of the Justice Department is a crock.  Something that is vindicated is proven to be right or justified, something that is conspicuously absent here.  It has been proven that the feds can do this to people, whether it is right or justifiable to actually go ahead and do it is entirely another matter.
There is more on this over at Reason. 

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