You have probably heard by now that the Bergholz beard-cutters were convicted in the federal hate crimes trial last week. They will have to wait four months for sentencing, however, until January 24 (appeal remains a possibility as well).

Now attention has shifted to whether some of the convicts should remain free or be imprisoned leading up to sentencing. According to the lead of this story, the group’s lawyers maintain that locking them up “would create a financial hardship for their families and could leave their children hungry this winter”.  Crops and canning are happening right now, and parents need to lay up money to carry their families through potentially long jail sentences.

Should children and financial circumstances be taken into consideration here (or in general in such cases, for that matter)?  It goes without saying that having a breadwinner go to jail negatively impacts a family financially.  That’s true whether you’re Amish, non-Amish, or whatever the Bergholz people are considered to be.  In this case close to 50 children would be affected. At least one family (of 10 children) would potentially see both mother and father in jail.

Hate crimes…and punishments

I also wonder if there is a flip side to the hate crimes aspect of this case.  In convicting them of hate crimes, jurors had to consider factors like bias and religious motivations.  So should we also factor in religion somehow when looking at punishment?

In other words, should courts consider the special situation of these people, which can be traced in large part to religious beliefs that lead them to have large families, traditional manual trades, and heavy dependence on male breadwinners?  It seems attorneys might argue that certain punishments would create excessive harm and hardship for “religiously-motivated” families such as these.

Makes my head spin a little (and thus reminds me why I never pursued a career in law).

What do you think?


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