Three weeks ago the beard-cutting hate crimes convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court in Ohio.
Following part 1 of his look at the case, today Donald Kraybill shares some analysis of the case reversals, including why they happened, why they matter for future cases and what might happen next.
Maybe not surprisingly for a legal argument, it turns out the reversal hinged on the interpretation of just two words.
We also have our three Renegade Amish winners at the end of the post.
Donald Kraybill on the Bergholz Hate Crime Reversals
Appellate Court Overturns the Hate Crime Verdicts
- On August 27, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati the appellate court overturned the hate crime convictions in a 2-1 sharply divided decision. The court upended the hate crime convictions for what it considered an error in the district court’s instructions to the jury.
- The appellate court did not address the constitutionality of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
- The non-hate crime convictions (perjury and obstructing justice) were not overturned.
Why the Appellate Court Reversed the Hate Crime Convictions
- No one disputes that the attacks took place. But what motivated them? What motives drove the assailants—family feuds, interpersonal spite, or religion?
- The defendants argued that family malice and personal bitterness sparked their late-night assaults and ambushes. The prosecution contended that religious differences propelled the attacks.
- The federal statute (Shepard-Byrd) considers an attack a religious hate crime if an assailant “willfully causes bodily injury to any person . . . because of the actual or perceived . . . religion . . . of [that] person.”
- The appellate court’s opinion hinged on two different interpretations of the words “because of.”
- The federal district court instructed the jury that a religious motive was evident if the victim’s “actual or perceived religion was a significant motivating factor for a defendant’s action…even if he or she had other reasons” for attacking the victim.
- The defendants contended that the words “because of” require a “but-for” cause to show that an assailant would not have cut beards but for the victim’s actual or perceived religious beliefs.
- The appellate court agreed with the defendants, saying that “because of” means “by reason of” or “on account of.”
- The appellate court opinion made a distinction between religion being the primary or predominant motive and religion being a significant motive among other motives. Did the assailants attack “because of” the religion of the victims or was religion only one significant reason among others such as familial strife?
- The district court used a broader, more expansive definition of the motive(s) driving the Amish hate crimes. The appellate court’s opinion is a narrower, more restrictive interpretation of the words “because of,” suggesting that religion must be the overriding or predominant motive for a religious hate crime.
- The dissenting judge strongly disagreed, saying, “The overwhelming and unrefuted evidence adduced at trial demonstrates that Mullet participated in the assaults because of the victims’ religious beliefs.”
Why This Case Matters
- The Bergholz case was the first religious hate crimes conviction under the 2009 Shepard-Byrd Act. The interpretation of motives in this case is important not only for the Amish convictions and for other religious hate crimes, but for all types of hate crimes as well.
- The legal decisions ensuing from this reversal will establish a judicial standard for how Shepard-Byrd is interpreted in the future for all hate crimes sparked by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, or religion.
- If the appellate court’s restrictive interpretation remains unchallenged, future prosecution of hate crimes will require evidence of a predominant motive for attacks that cause bodily injury.
- This new development upscales the significance of the Bergholz case because of its potential impact for prosecuting all hate crimes.
What Will Happen Next?
- The US Department of Justice may consider several possible options: 1) proceed with new trials for some of the defendants, 2) appeal to the full bench of judges in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (en banc), 3) petition the US Supreme Court, or 4) resentence those defendants charged with lying to the FBI and concealing evidence.
- Depending on the response of the Department of Justice, local municipalities in Ohio might proceed with their own prosecutions.
- Sam Mullet and the other defendants remaining in prison are still under indictment. They remain convicted of concealing evidence and perjury. They will likely petition district court Judge Polster to be released from prison while the legal process continues.
- About a half dozen defendants with one-year prison sentences have already returned to Bergholz.
Renegade Amish Winners
Donald Kraybill’s new book Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers examines the shocking Bergholz case and its aftermath and effects on the Amish community. An excerpt from the book description (read it in full here):
Renegade Amish goes behind the scenes to tell the full story of the Bergholz barbers: the attacks, the investigation, the trial, and the aftermath. In a riveting narrative reminiscent of a true crime classic, scholar Donald B. Kraybill weaves a dark and troubling story in which a series of violent Amish-on-Amish attacks shattered the peace of these traditionally nonviolent people, compelling some of them to install locks on their doors and arm themselves with pepper spray.
One of our readers, Emily, also commented:
Please do *not* enter my name for the giveaway, as I went out, bought the book, and am absolutely tearing through it. Oh, what a heartbreaking story! I’m so glad that Don Kraybill wrote this book; he’s able to capture the pain of broken family ties, broken church ties, broken unity that cause as much shock and pain as the sensational beard-cutting incidents that got all the press.
We have three winners of the book today, which I’ve chosen using random.org from among your post and social media entries:
#22 Char N
#69 Primitive Christianity
Congratulations winners! Email me your shipping address (to email@example.com) and I’ll pass that to Johns Hopkins so they can get you your books.
UPDATE: I meant to include some information on Donald Kraybill’s speaking dates and book signings. Here is the upcoming schedule, with events in various locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Wednesday Sept 17th
Middlefield Ohio (Geauga County)
6:30 PM Public gathering arranged by Amish people
Talking/Q&A and signing books
Thursday September 18th
7 PM Westminster College (New Wilmington, PA http://www.westminster.edu)
sponsored by:Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies
Friday September 19th
7 PM talk/Q&A/signing
Perry Reese Community Center at Hiland High School in Berlin, Ohio.
For more information: 330-893-2523
Saturday morning, September 20
GOSPEL BOOK STORE
German Village Center in Berlin, Ohio.
Contact info: 330-893-2523
Monday, September 22nd
9-10 am Smart Talk
WITF Radio (Harrisburg Pennsylvania)
National Public Radio station
Saturday, September 27th
7:00pm Barnes & Noble
Reading, Discussion & Signing
Lancaster, PA Red Rose Commons
1700H Fruitville Pike Lancaster, PA 17601 o (717) 290-8056 firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tuesday, October 21st
7:30 PM talk/Q&A/signing
The Young Center
contact: Don Kraybill
Wednesday, October 22nd
6:30 PM banquet by reservation opened the public
Shady Maple restaurant, Blue Ball Pennsylvania (15 miles East of Lancaster)
Event arranged by Amish people
Contact for Reservation: 443-907-2636