Justice for All: A New Look at Protected Classes
By Tiffani Walker
He did not kill a transgender woman because she was transgendered or perceived to be gay; he did it because he flew into a rage. Allen Andrade used that defense in his trial for murder in Colorado. A jury, however, did not buy the defense, and convicted him in under two hours of first-degree murder and a bias-motivated crime for the savage beating of his former girlfriend, Angie Zapata, who was born Justin Zapata. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The prosecution classified his crime as a bias-motivated crime, which in Colorado can carry a one- to three-year sentence. The issue decided in this case is one that has been decided all over the country: what type of treatment do bias-motivated crimes receive under the First Amendment?
Wisconsin v. Mitchell offers a look at this issue from a racial standpoint and descrives the lack of protection for bias-motivated conduct crimes under the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court articulated in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, they will not allow laws that regulate expression; however, they will allow laws that prohibit conduct based offenses. In Mitchell, Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the unanimous Court, said states have the freedom to control bias-motivated crimes that “are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest.”
The African-American boys in the Mitchell case beat a Caucasian boy into a coma. Mitchell yelled to the group, “do you all feel hyped up to move on some white people?” Though Mitchell is about race, the case against Andrade, for his bias-motivated crime against a transgender person, is regarded in society as having the same social harm as race motivated crimes.
Colorado is one of 11 states in this country whose hate crime statutes includes a gender identity prong as one of the protected classes. Although most gender identity-based crimes have not been prosecuted, it seems the turn in societal acceptance towards this class could result in more crimes and more litigation. Because media has such a big impact on what is accepted in society, shows on cable television accepting transgender individuals could lead to more violence and more recognition for this protected class.
In Texas, the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes act of 2001 allows a judge to add additional sentencing to hate- or bias-motivated crimes. The Act was passed after the brutal murder of an African-American man by three Caucasian men, who dragged Byrd behind a pick-up truck, which caused his death. Two of the men were members of a white supremacy group and openly admitted to committing the murder, which took place in Jasper, Texas, because Byrd was black. Most states possess hate crime statutes similar to this one, which allow for increased punishment for crimes motivated by race, gender or sexual orientation.
No matter what type of bias is involved, it is important for the judicial system, as Chief Justice Rehnquist did in Mitchell, to recognize that a crime against another because of their unique traits is morally reprehensible.
Andrade’s conviction is already being hailed as a landmark case for hate crimes against transgendered people. This is also the first time a person in Colorado has been convicted under the transgender prong of the hate crime statute. Hopefully this decision will motivate other states to take similar action to include transgendered people as a protected class, similar to race, gender and sexual orientation.
Here is an article regarding Andrade’s trial and conviction.Uncategorized