Spa shootings could be the first test of Georgia’s new hate crime law

The shooting in the Atlanta region, which left a total of eight people dead, could potentially be the first test of the new hate crime law that was passed by the Georgia Legislature last year.

Robert A Long was charged with murder in Fulton and Cherokee counties in connection with the shooting. The public prosecutor does not have to immediately inform the court whether or not they are going to seek enhanced penalties spelled out under Georgia’s new law.

 

And while investigators have not offered a firm explanation for the reason behind the mass shootings, according to legal advocates, it’s quite apparent the shootings were motivated by gender and race. Authorities said the accused told investigators that the shootings weren’t racially motivated. He further told them he has a “sexual addiction.”

Until now, it’s also not clear whether or not the federal prosecutors will bring charges. The standard to prove hate crimes in federal court is quite difficult. This is because of the “but for” standard prosecutors use in weighing charges which means that the accused would not have committed the crime “but for” the gender, race, or any other identity of a victim protected by hate crime laws.

The US Attorney’s Office and career prosecutors in the civil rights division will investigate matters in depth to see if they could meet federal hate crimes statutes. If the facts and law meet the fundamentals of these statutes, the government might seek an indictment. 

Lack of jury trials might have slowed the use of new law

The pandemic has slowed down the court system since March 2020, when the chief judge of the Georgia Supreme Court suspended jury trials because of Covid-19. The state’s chief justice announced last week that jury trials would begin again.

Prosecutors in Fulton and Cherokee counties have not mentioned whether they will seek enhanced penalties under the state’s recently enacted hate crimes law. This new law specifies enhanced penalties for crimes where people were targeted for, among other things, gender, sexual orientation, and race. Long was given a court-appointed attorney, J. Daran Burns. 

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