Following the paintball incident earlier this year involving juveniles targeting Native Alaskans, it came to the attention of many that Alaska does not have a hate crime statute. The question of how to charge someone for a hate crime when a statute does not exist is a question that led the Alaska Senate to introduce Senate Bill 169 on March 29.
The Senate passed legislation on May 6 for “An Act relating to the nonapplicability of the delinquency laws to certain minors accused of certain crimes against persons directed at certain victims.” The bill will be turned over to the House to make a decision. The legislation does not include adults who commit hate crimes.
“A lot of people think we need specific hate crime statutes and a lot of people think that hate crime statutes would be crossing the lines of freedom of speech,” Antonia Moras, Editor of the Alaska Justice Forum, said. Moras conducted a study of hate crimes in Alaska for several weeks and will publish a detailed article on the results of her findings in the Alaska Justice Forum.
States that currently have hate crime laws undergo immense constitutional scrutiny due to the difficulty of determining whether or not a felony crime is committed on the sole purpose of race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, ancestry, or national origin.
The First Amendment gives anyone the right to hate anyone else, but it does not give anyone the right to act on that hate infringing on the other's constitutional and civil rights. The difficulty lies in determining whether a felony committed should hold more severe punishment if the motive of the perpetrator is based on hate.
Although there is not a hate crime statute in the State of Alaska, there is what is called a sentence aggravator. A sentence aggravator is a judicial decision made to give an extended sentencing if it is determined that the crime was committed on reasons of bias. In a murder case for example, if the judge decides that the motive of the murder was hate, then the judge could increase the severity of the sentence.
The minors involved in the paintball incident have been charged with misdemeanors for crimes that are arguably felonies. With SB 169 in motion, the law for minors who choose to act out crimes based on hatred is subject to change.
If a crime is determined to be based on hate and the offender is a minor 16 years of age or older, they could be tried as an adult. Adults that commit crimes based on hate will still face the possibility of stricter punishment if a sentence aggravator is applied.
Punishment for minors convicted of hate crimes is in the process of becoming stricter in Alaska. Penalties for adults will remain the same unless another bill is introduced. If justice is to be served on a hate crime for adults, the decision is left to the judge trying the case to attach a sentence aggravator.