The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday declared law unconstitutional a hate-crime law allowing for enhanced prison sentences if a person or a person’s property were victimized “because of bias or prejudice,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Forty-eight states have hate-crime laws, but only Georgia’s did not specify to which groups of victims it applied. The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously said the statute was “unconstitutionally vague.” The ruling came in a case by a white couple convicted of a 2002 attack on two black brothers.
Justice Carol Hunstein said the law was written so broadly that any bias or prejudice, “no matter how obscure, whimsical or unrelated to the victim it may be,” could serve as grounds for a hate crime. The law could be applied against “a rabid sports fan convicted of uttering terroristic threats to a victim selected for wearing a competing baseball team’s cap; a campaign worker convicted of trespassing for defacing a political opponent’s yard signs; a performance car fanatic convicted of stealing a Ferrari,” she said. The court appeared to encourage the state legislature to try again by writing that lawmakers “may appropriately decide” that bias-motivated crimes warrant enhanced punishment. The law has been invoked sparingly.