Some 'Knockout' Attacks Charged as Hate Crimes30-Dec-2013
According to national news media outlets, the "knockout game" or "polar bear hunting" is the latest dangerous trend by violent youth. In "knockout," the goal of the assailants is to approach a random stranger and knock him or her out with one punch. While the victims of the game are said to be selected at random, in many cases, these attacks are racially motivated. In some cities, the "game" is typically played by African-American young people targeting Jewish victims. Knockout's alternate name, "Polar Bear," comes from the fact that, in general, victims are white. However, the "game" is not exclusive to black youth targeting white victims. The opposite is also true. When a victim is targeted on the basis of his or her race, the assault may be charged as a hate crime.
A Texas man was charged with a federal hate crime last week after punching an elderly man in a "knockout" attack. Conrad Alvin Barrett, 27, allegedly made a video of the assault in which he said, "The plan is to see if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?"
Barrett made news, all right. He has been charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal act that criminalizes targeting a victim on the basis of his or her religion, race, national origin, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Barrett is not the first person to be charged with a hate crime as a result of the knockout game. Marajh Amrit was charged with violating the New York hate crime statute after he allegedly attacked a Jewish man in a knockout assault.
Oklahoma news has not yet reported any assaults considered to be the result of the knockout game. If it should occur, however, the assault could be charged as a hate crime if it violates the Oklahoma hate crime statute.
Found in 21 O.S.§ 850, the law allows additional penalties for anyone who assaults or threatens a person or vandalizes his or her property on the basis of the victim's "race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability." Oklahoma is one of only a few states that do not address gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation in their hate crimes laws.
A first hate crime offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in jail in addition to any penalties associated with the underlying assault or property crime. A second or subsequent offense, however, is a felony. Felony hate crime conviction carries the potential for 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Additionally, Oklahoma law states that a person may be held not only criminally responsible, but also civilly liable for any injuries or losses occurring as a result of the hate crime.
Often, prosecutors attempt to charge a defendant with the most serious offenses and with as many crimes as possible. A simple assault may bring additional charges if the District Attorney believes that the defendant perpetrated a crime based upon the race, religion, or disability of the victim. A skillful defense lawyer can work for the dismissal of inflated charges or can negotiate for a plea to lesser offenses.
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