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Stuart Taylor rightly criticized the new federal hate crimes bill (“The Kind of Villains We Prefer,” May 28, Page 62). But he left out its biggest flaw: double jeopardy.
Federal hate crimes law allows people found innocent of a crime in state court to be reprosecuted in federal court. As a supporter put it, the federal law serves as a “safety valve in case a state hate crimes prosecution fails.” The idea that the justice system has “failed” when a jury votes “not guilty” is scary and contrary to the presumption of innocence.
Yet many support federal reprosecutions. Former Attorney General Janet Reno once said that federal hate crimes legislation was needed to provide a federal “forum” in case a prosecution failed in state court. A lawyer speaking for the NOW Legal Defense Fund told Congress that reprosecution is appropriate if state prosecutors had “inadequate resources” or were of “questionable effectiveness.”
Hate crimes prosecutions are sometimes driven more by politics than evidence. Another lawyer supporting reprosecutions perversely cited the Duke lacrosse case. He claimed that the defendants escaped justice because prosecutor Mike Nifong was ineffective and overzealous. But they were innocent, as DNA evidence showed.
So far federal reprosecutions have been rare. This hate crimes bill would surely change that.