Legal Columns

Does Arkansas Have a Hate Crimes Law?

The motivations for committing crimes vary, but some offenses may be committed because of the alleged victim's membership in a specific class. When such factors serve as the reason for an act of violence or destruction against another, the offense is termed a hate crime.

In the U.S., most states have a specific statute prohibiting hate crimes and imposing enhanced penalties upon people convicted of such offenses. However, Arkansas is not one of those states. In fact, it's one of three states that do not have a hate crimes law on the books (the other two are South Carolina and Wyoming). In Arkansas, a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a bill to be considered at the next legislative session that would change that.

House Democratic Minority Leader Fred Love said that a hate crimes law was a "long-time coming." He cited the events that occurred during the summer of 2020, specifically mentioning the death of George Floyd, as an impetus to move forward with this type of legislation in the state.

The current bill isn't the first to be proposed in Arkansas. In 2001, Senator Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, proposed a similar bill, but it didn't pass. She stated that her proposal's failure was likely due to the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class, which she refused to remove.

Governor Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also back the current proposed hate crimes legislation. But even with their support, lawmakers recognize that there will be challenges along the road to getting it passed.

What Would the Hate Crimes Law Do?

If passed, the hate crimes law would not create any new offenses. Instead, it would allow enhanced penalties for a person convicted of an offense if it's established that they engaged in the conduct because of some bias against the alleged victim. The punishments, however, can be increased by no more than 20%.

Additionally, to protect alleged offenders, the proposed law would make it a Class C felony to falsely accuse someone of a hate crime. In Arkansas, this class is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

What Groups Would Be Protected?

Hate crimes laws are established to protect specific groups from acts of violence. Typically, penalties are enhanced for hate crimes convictions because the offense puts the entire community at risk, as opposed to one specific individual.

If the Arkansas bill passes, an offense would be elevated to a hate crime if the motive for committing it was based on the alleged victim's:

  • Ancestry;
  • Color;
  • Disability;
  • Ethnicity;
  • Gender identity;
  • Homelessness;
  • Military status;
  • National origin;
  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Sex; or
  • Sexual orientation

The bill also stipulates that if the alleged offender had multiple motives for committing the offense, to seek enhanced penalties, the State must prove that the victim's membership in a protected class was a "substantial factor."

At Norwood & Norwood, P.A., we stay current on changes in the law to ensure your rights are protected to the fullest. If you've been accused of a crime in Northwest Arkansas, call us at (479) 235-4600 or contact us online today.

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