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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, March 9, 2001

No doubt hate-
crime law dumb

PEOPLE who support a so-called "hate crime" law in Hawaii have their hearts in the right place but their brains double parked.

The main reason for a law that would penalize a criminal worse if he hated the person he committed the crime against, I guess, is to make sure that all crimes are committed by people who don't particularly give a rip about why they're committing the crime.

Take killing, for instance, a popular pastime these days for kids and adults alike. That kid who shot up his California middle school this week apparently didn't hate any of his victims. He just hated being anonymous.

And he was willing to give up the rest of his life just to get his face on CNN Headline News. Who is more dangerous? A guy who shoots down innocent unarmed victims on a whim or a guy who shoots down innocent unarmed victims because he doesn't like the color of their skin or sexual orientation?

The answer is they are both idiots who should spend the rest of their lives in the slammer.

Proponents of a "hate crime" law ought to go spend a few days in the courthouse watching prosecutors present their cases to juries. It would be enlightening. First off all, the burden of proof is on the state. And that burden in a criminal case is "beyond a reasonable doubt." You haven't had fun until you've watched a judge try to explain the concept of reasonable doubt to 12 people whose only exposure to legal principals is watching "Judge Judy."

I covered the courts for years and I've heard every possible explanation of reasonable doubt, most of them bad. I heard one judge simply punt and tell the jury, "A reasonable doubt is a doubt that is reasonable."

Defense attorneys try to turn reasonable doubt into any doubt whatsoever, and many of them are pretty good at it. They'll convince jurors that if they have any doubt in their minds that their client is not guilty, they have to acquit.

Proving someone did something wrong beyond a reasonable doubt is an extremely high standard. In civil cases, you only have to prove something by a "preponderance of evidence." Think of the lady in the blindfold holding the scales of justice. If those scales tip every so slightly in your favor in a civil case, you win. In a criminal case, they start off tipped completely in favor of the defendant, who's considered innocent. The prosecutor has to keep adding evidence to the other side of the scales until it tips, not just slightly past even, but nearly all the way to the top.

That's beyond a reasonable doubt.

Why is a discussion of reasonable doubt important when discussing hate crime laws? Because it also is a prosecutor's burden to prove EVERY ELEMENT OF THE CRIME beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor proves nine out of 10 elements of a crime, the jury has a duty to vote "not guilty."

Now, take the example of two idiots who shoot up a school. One does it forkicks, the other for hate. To convict the first guy, you only have to prove he was there and he did it. To convict the second guy, you have to prove that he was there, that he did it and WHY he did it. And you have to prove that WHY beyond a reasonable doubt.

That's almost impossible. Which means, the criminals hate-crime law proponents want to hurt the most will likely be the ones who get away. Of that, there is no doubt.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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