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New York Moves to Classify Hate Crime Killings as “Domestic Terrorism” & Adds Additional Penalties


In August, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed adding penalties on to violent hate crimes that are committed against individuals based on gender, race, or other protected class here in New York and, in doing so, labeling them crimes of “domestic terrorism.” According to Cuomo’s office, current hate crime laws in New York cover second degree not first-degree murder and those are convicted of them can qualify for parole, and the new proposal would essentially close that loophole, making them punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to rumors, the new law would define mass casualties covered as the death of at least one person and the attempted murder of at least two additional people.

How It Would Change The Current Law

The proposal was born out of serious concerns about killings tied to white supremacy. Congress defines domestic terrorism as violent acts intended to intimidate civilians and or the government; specifically, the PATRIOT Act expanded the definition of terrorism to include a domestic component if someone engages in a terroristic act that is “dangerous to human life.” This act violates criminal laws if it is intended to intimidate or coerce the population. Influence the government, or affect a government’s conduct by assassination, kidnapping, or mass destruction.

Still, there is no official federal offense for it as there is at the international level. Typically, acts of terrorism are prosecuted under different charges, such as destroying something in interstate commerce. While states such as New York have enacted their own state laws to define terrorism, they typically measure it based on an attempt to destabilize the public or the government. This new law, however, would very specifically indicate that domestic terrorism includes any act of mass violence against people based on their identity.

First Amendment/Civil Rights Concerns

Many believe that this proposal will win support from the New York State Legislature come January. However, civil rights advocates are very concerned that this could lead to first amendment violations, pointing out that historically a number of terrorism investigations have led to free-speech violations. Others have also pointed out that because states like New York do not have experience investigating and prosecuting terrorism cases these types of moves tend to have very little practical effects, especially given that there is already a crime in New York for murder in aid of terrorism.

Contact Our NYC Criminal Defense Attorneys with Questions

If you have any questions about the law impacts you, or if you have been charged with a hate crime or other crime, contact our experienced NYC criminal attorneys at the office of Mark I. Cohen, Esq. to find out how we can help.





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