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Federal charges result in prison terms for Houston hate crime

The final chapter in a Houston, Texas, hate crime case drew national attention recently when a federal judge sentenced three white men to prison for their part in the racially motivated 2011 attack on a black man. Criminal defense attorneys watched this case closely because it was the first prosecution in Texas under a recent law making racially motivated violent crime a federal offense.

The federal investigation into the 2011 Houston attack began after local prosecutors asked the Justice Department to handle the criminal case under the 2009 amendments to the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The prosecutors reasoned that prison sentences under the federal law were longer than those a state court could impose if the defendants were convicted of state assault charges.

The federal judge could have sentenced each of the three men to prison terms of up to 10 years, but instead imposed prison sentences ranging from 30 months to 77 months. One factor that may have led to less than maximum-term sentences was that the victim did not suffer serious injuries in the attack. The victim succeeded in fighting off his attackers who first tried to intimidate him by displaying white supremacist tattoos and then punched and kicked him until knocking him to the ground.

Having an experienced criminal defense attorney is always important for a person who has been arrested and charged with a violent crime in state court. Legal representation is now more important than ever under the new federal hate crimes law where further police investigation may also lead to charges involving federal crimes.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Men sentenced under hate crime law in Houston case," Juan A. Lozano, July 23, 2012

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