Arkansas officials and legislators have voiced support for a new hate crime bill and introduced a draft of a prospective bill.
On Wednesday, Aug. 19, Gov. Asa Hutchinson introduced a draft of the bill that is expected to be discussed during by the Arkansas General Assembly during the next legislative session. The bill has been drafted by members of the Arkansas Senate and House of Representatives.
The draft bill will impose enhanced penalties when a criminal act has been committed based on a “victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender, identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability or service in the United States Armed Forces.
“This draft bill creates a sentence enhancement for targeting someone because of their religion, their race or sex,” Hutchinson said.
According to the draft, prosecutors may only enhance the sentence if a victim attribute was a “substantial factor in the commission of the offense.”
In order to pursue a sentence enhancement, the state must establish the “factual predicate” in the indictment. The state can later impose a sentence enhancement if it is found later beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant targeted a victim due to one of the attributes listed above. This enhancement could equal an additional imprisonment term equal to 20 percent of the original prison term, the additional term plus a fine, or an additional term of probation.
As part of the current bill, the state will be required to prepare a report on the commission of hate crimes in Arkansas.
When discussing the draft bill, Hutchinson said that the bill will help send a “consistent message” on hate crimes.
“Thirty-five years ago, I was U.S. Attorney here in Arkansas, and I prosecuted a white supremacist, Neo-Nazi group in the northern part of this state. They targeted individuals because they were Jewish, because they were others of different races, and because of their beliefs. They committed acts of violence and many other crimes targeting individuals because of those factors. At that time, there were no sentence enhancements, there was no hate crime law under federal or state law, and I wish at that time we had had one. It would have been helpful. It would have been helpful not only in the prosecution, but it would also be helpful to send the right, consistent message across our state and nation that hate should not be tolerated and individuals should not be targeted for who they are. Today, we have that opportunity,” he said.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also discussed the draft bill, calling it a “much needed and long-overdue piece of legislation.”
“These crimes cannot be tolerated, and we must send a clear message. Enhanced crimes of evil will result in enhanced levels of justice. We must send this clear message that we will not tolerate hate,” she said.