ATLANTA—The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously threw out the state’s hate crimes law Monday, calling it over-broad and “unconstitutionally vague.”
The four-year-old law calls for stiffer criminal penalties for crimes in which a victim was chosen because of “any bias or prejudice.”
The 7-0 ruling came in the case of a man and woman convicted of an assault on two black men in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood.
Angela Pisciotta and Christopher Botts were convicted of beating two black men while screaming racial epithets in 2002. The trial judge sentenced them to six years in prison, plus an additional two years under the hate crimes law.
Pisciotta and Botts appealed to the state’s highest court in April. Their lawyers argued that the hate crimes statute should be struck down because almost any crime involving prejudice falls under its scope.
The court wrote Monday that it “by no means condon(es) appellants savage attack on the victims in this case or any conduct motivated by a bigoted or hate-filled point of view,” but that “the broad language” of the law didn’t pass constitutional muster.
Originally, the legislation defined a hate crime as one motivated specifically by the victim’s race, religion, gender, national origin or sexual orientation.
That language was removed by the Legislature and replaced with a section defining a hate crime as one in which the victim or his property was targeted because of bias or prejudice.