These days, it seems that crimes are prosecuted based upon two things. The first, of course, is the criminal activity itself. Sometimes, however, the motivation behind the crime is an Aggravating factor that is almost a crime unto itself. Take, for example, the tale of Michael Jacques (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) The Defendant is being prosecuted for a Springfield Arson.
However, as the prosecutor announced at the beginning of the trial, “We are here today because of racism”. Indeed, the Defendant is not simply being prosecuted for arson, but also for the crime being a Massachusetts hate crime.
The trial, which has begun in federal court in Springfield, began this week. The Defendant, a known racist according to the prosecution, is accused of showing his disdain for the African-American community by torching a predominantly black church to protest the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 as the country’s first black president.
According to the prosecution, the Defendant confessed that he and two other men “burned the church because it was a black church.”
The Defendant, 26, is charged with conspiracy against civil rights, damaging religious property, and using fire to commit a felony. These types of charges are what has brought what otherwise would be prosecuted in state court to federal court.
If convicted, the Defendant faces decades in federal prison.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Massachusetts Hate Crimes
There are some who would say that the government has no right to prosecute a person for his or her motivations. After all, we are guaranteed under the United States Constitution, if nowhere else, to free thought and free speech.
You probably already knew that “free speech” has its limitations. For example, you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded room. If you are a student, you cannot say mean things under Massachusetts’ new anti-bullying statute. As we have also discussed in the past, if you say something that a police officer finds offensive, you can be arrested for disorderly conduct.
It also goes without saying that you cannot burn down a building for any reason.
However, you might be surprised to know that having a certain mindset can increase your culpability in the crime you commit. First of all, certain crimes are said to violate your alleged victim’s civil rights. I would imagine that any crime does that. However, it does not seem to be actionable criminally unless it is a motivation that we really don’t like.
And we do not like racial hatred.
So, along with being careful what you do and say…you may want to be careful what you think or, at least, letting people know what you think.
If the government has decided that what you do, say or think is criminal, do not rely on your natural assumptions regarding logic, fairness and Constitutional Rights. Call an experienced attorney.
If you would like to discuss a criminal matter with me, please feel free to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.
To view the original story upon part of this blog is based, please go to : http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/03/22/springfield_arson_trial_kicks_off/?page=full