The language of West Virginia's law on hate crimes is under question -- and the case is going all the way to the state's Supreme Court.
The question the court is being asked to decide is whether or not a former Marshall University football player's actions qualified as a hate crime within the meaning of the laws of the state. In 2015, the football player saw two men sharing a kiss as he passed by in a car. He jumped from the car, yelled homophobic slurs and punched both men.
The answer to that question could determine whether or not the former football player (who was a senior at the University at the time of the incident) spends at most only a year or two in jail or possibly more than a decade.
A lower court ruled that the hate crime charges didn't apply because West Virginia's statute offers civil rights protections based on "sex" but not "sexual orientation."
Prosecutors argue that, in this case, "sex" and "sexual orientation" are the same thing because if one of the victims had been female, the violent attack would never have occurred.
The defense, naturally, disagrees. However, so does the state's Attorney General's office, which also argued for the "plain language" interpretation of the law.
Originally, the defendant was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery. Each carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $500 fine if convicted. The defendant was subsequently charged with two additional counts of violating the men's civil rights -- a hate crime. The hate crime charges each carry a potential of up to a decade in prison and a $5,000 fine if he's convicted.
The Attorney General's office essentially argued that any other interpretation would be legislating from the bench, rather than allowing the state's legislative branch to add that protection to the statute if it feels it is necessary. At least one of the justices on the Supreme Court seemed to find merit in the idea that the plain language interpretation was best, but a ruling has yet to be issued.
This case is a good example of how a strong defense attorney can help preserve a defendant's rights under the law, no matter what the situation. If you ever find yourself facing similar charges, seek a criminal defense attorney's assistance right away.
Source: MetroNews, "Hate crime charges against former Marshall football player now a question for state Supreme Court," Shauna Johnson, April 25, 2017