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Attacks on Police Could Become Texas Hate Crimes

Published: Dec 27, 2016 in Criminal Defense

In the wake of an ambush killing of a San Antonio police officer at the end of November, Texas legislature Jason Villalba has filed a bill that would make attacks on law enforcement and other first responders a hate crime. If House Bill 429 passes, it would increase punishments for attacking anyone based on the victim’s status as a police officer, paramedic, or firefighter.

What is considered a hate crime in Texas?

Texas adopted its current hate crime law, the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, in 2001. The law enhances penalties for a certain group of crimes motivated by the victim’s race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.

Despite an average of nearly 200 hate crimes in Texas per year, there were only 10 hate crime prosecutions from 2001 to 2012. In addition to state law, the federal government passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Preventions Act in 2009.

What is the Police Protection Act?

HB 429 is similar to the Police Protection Act, which was proposed by Governor Gregg Abbot following the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers in a peaceful protest in July. Governor Abbott has urged Texas lawmakers to pass the Police Protection Act (PPA) in the upcoming 2017 legislative session. The PPA contains the following proposals:

  • Extend hate crime protections to law enforcement officers;
  • Increase criminal penalties for any crime in which the victim is a law enforcement officer, whether or not the crime qualifies as a hate crime;
  • Create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities.

Under this proposed act, the penalty for an assault on a police officer would increase from a 3rd-degree felony to a 2nd-degree felony, which is punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.

National Movement to Pass Hate Crime Laws for Police

In 2016, 58 police officers nationwide have been killed in the line of duty, and seven of those deaths occurred in Texas. Texas is just one of many states that are considering passing legislation to make attacks against police officers a hate crime. While advocates argue that this will serve as a deterrent for violence against police, critics worry that expanding hate crime laws to include law enforcement officers and other emergency responders will undermine the original intent of such protections.

Legally speaking, HB 429 and similar legislative efforts may be unnecessary given that all 50 states already have laws in place that mandate harsher punishments for anyone convicted of attacking the police. For example, assault with bodily injury is generally punishable as a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, but an assault on a law enforcement officer is a 3rd-degree felony.

Experienced Criminal Defense Representation

If you’re facing criminal charges, contact experienced Houston criminal attorney Ned Barnett right away. Ned Barnett is board certified as a criminal lawyer by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and with nearly 30 years of practical legal experience as a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor. He has the skills and knowledge to defend against serious criminal charges and will fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

Contact us today at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free consultation.