Texas has hate crime statutes on the books, but recent events show that it’s time for the legislature to update the code to face modern hate crimes. Merriam-Webster defines hate crime as:
any of various crimes (such as assault or defacement of property) when motivated by hostility to the victim as a member of a group (such as one based on color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation).
The legislature follows that definition with the pertinent statues stating:
(a) If an affirmative finding under Article 42.014, Code of Criminal Procedure , is made in the trial of an offense other than a first degree felony or a Class A misdemeanor, the punishment for the offense is increased to the punishment prescribed for the next highest category of offense. If the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, the minimum term of confinement for the offense is increased to 180 days. This section does not apply to the trial of an offense of injury to a disabled individual under § 22.04 , if the affirmative finding in the case under Article 42.014, Code of Criminal Procedure , shows that the defendant intentionally selected the victim because the victim was disabled.
Art. 42.014. FINDING THAT OFFENSE WAS COMMITTED BECAUSE OF BIAS OR PREJUDICE. (a) In the trial of an offense under Title 5, Penal Code, or Section 28.02, 28.03, or 28.08, Penal Code, the judge shall make an affirmative finding of fact and enter the affirmative finding in the judgment of the case if at the guilt or innocence phase of the trial, the judge or the jury, whichever is the trier of fact, determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected the person against whom the offense was committed, or intentionally selected the person’s property that was damaged or affected as a result of the offense, because of the defendant’s bias or prejudice against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge.
The definition and code sections are good to cover traditional hate crime grounds. However, subsequent to Trump’s election a new category of hate crimes has emerged. Now, we have crime where the sole basis of the criminal act is to target Trump supporters. Although the current Empire case seems to be heading in that direction, we don’t even have to go that far to see the need for the updated definition.
Remember the teenager in San Antonio who had his MAGA hat ripped off his head? The action appeared to be motivated solely because of the MAGA hat, and an indictment followed. However, the state legal architecture does not allow for a hate crime enhancement because the statute only allows for the enhancement in the cases of, “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge.”
Society has devolved to where support for the President is sufficient to be a crime victim. The criminal behavior is in line with the spirit of hate crime definition – it’s motivated by hostility to the victim as a member of a group, specifically political ideology. This type of criminal behavior is a direct threat to the democratic process. The legislature needs to address this threat head on and add “or political ideology, or support for a politician or political candidate,” to the last sentence of 42.014(a) to update the code to meet the new category of hate crimes occurring in the state.