Hate Crimes Legislation and Poor Judicial Conduct

I came across an unfortunate consequence of confusion partially created by the charges resulting from hate crimes legislation.  This morning I read a New York Law Journal article by John Caher entitled Manslaughter Hate Conviction Found to Be Legally Consistent (paywall).  This article was based on a decision in the case of The People of the State of New York v. Dwight R. Delee KA 09-02479.

Mr. Dwight Delee was charged with killing a person by shooting him with a rifle.  The man he killed was a homosexual and wearing a dress at the time of the murder.  There was ample evidence that the crime was at least in part motivated by an animus towards the victim’s sexual preference.  Mr. Delee was charged with murder in the second degree as a hate crime, intentional murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.  At trial there were some lesser included charges that were given to the jury including manslaughter as a hate crime in the first and second degrees and manslaughter in the first and second degrees.

After the trial Mr. Delee was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.  He was acquitted of all the other charges, except one which us unnecessary to discuss as it is irrelevant to this article.

The defense moved post-verdict to dismiss the conviction of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime because it was inconsistent with the acquittal on the manslaughter in the first degree charge.  This properly preserved the issue for appeal.  Unfortunately, the judge dismissed the jury before asking them to resolve their conflicted verdict.  The judge could have avoided the, I believe unjust, result if he or she had merely asked the jury to resolve the conflict.  This was poor judicial conduct and helped to result in the ends of justice not being served.

The appeal resulted and the appellate court overturning the conviction of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime.  The majority found the not guilty finding of manslaughter in the first degree to be inconsistent with a guilty finding of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime.  The majority held that manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime are identical in all elements except the added hate crime element to the latter.  If the jury found that one of the elements of manslaughter in the first degree was not met, then it also could not have been met to support the hate crimes conviction.

The result is that a person who shot someone in cold blood serves the three and one half years on the illegal weapons possession and serves no time for the murder.

The jury foreman apparently presented an affidavit roughly a week after the verdict explaining what took place during the deliberations.  It turns out that the jury quickly determined that this was a hate crime.  Because they decided that it was a hate crime they found him not guilty of the other charges.  This is the danger of having the similar crimes charged.  It seems the jury found that because the hate crime element was met they should only find him guilty of the hate crime.  In other words, they saw a selection of choices and went with the most correct choice instead of all the correct choices.

It is confusing serving on a jury.  To have charges that are identical, except as to one element, being charged presents an added layer of difficulty.  It is fairly clear that this jury would most likely, if presented with the conflict by the trial judge, have found the defendant guilty of both manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime.

Whether or not you agree with hate crimes legislation it is clear that the confusion caused by having the similar counts charged to the jury helped result in a miscarriage of justice.  I understand that better judicial conduct most probably would have salvaged the verdict.

It could also be argued that the overcharging, inclusive of the lesser included offenses to the jury, may also result in confusion.  This is true and this case is not definitive and I am definitely not arguing that this case means all hate crimes legislation should be written out of the law.  I think it would be interesting to find out how often this happens and whether this case is an outlier.

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