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Charging the Charlottesville attack as a hate crime may not be as easy as it seems



The recent attack in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer has been denounced as a hate crime by many across the nation.

Alex Fields, Jr., who reportedly harbored Nazi sympathies, allegedly used his car to ram a crowd of counter protesters on Saturday. On face value, its not surprising that many believe a hate crime did occur.

"It very well could be a civil rights violation or a hate crime, and there might be other charges that could be brought," said Sessions during an interview with NBC on Wednesday.

"We'll look at this as the upcoming session begins," said Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday, according to Fox 59. "There's nothing supreme about those white supremacists other than their stupidity."

Fields faces murder and other felony charges in the commonwealth of Virginia, and while the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation into the case, charging fields with a hate could be difficult. Ed Chung, the vice president of criminal justice reform for the Center for American Progress, noted that he wasn't sure if it would be difficult to charge Fields with a hate crime, but he did note there are some hurdles.

"The typical hurdles in a hate crimes case is about motivation, so when you're looking at federal hate crimes prosecution, you have to prove not only the criminal act itself, whether its an assault, or in this case a homicide, but you [also] have to prove the motivation, that it was done because of someone's race, or other characteristic," Chung told me in an interview.

Chung also noted that the motivation doesn't have to be solely against the victim's race, it only needs to be the motivating factor.

On face value, it may appear that the Charlottesville attack meets the requirements, but motivation can often be difficult to prove.

"Proving motivation in any kind of prosecution is usually the hardest thing, or intent or motivation," said Chung. That task is made even more difficult considering prosecutors must prove the motivation was due to things like race or religion.

That said, Chung noted that federal officials appear to have a "head start" to determine the motivation, compared to past cases.

As federal officials continue their investigation, the attack is already having an impact on the law. Lawmakers across the country are already looking into new hate crime legislation. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to propose changes to his state's existing hate crime laws. Some Indiana lawmakers are interested in creating the state's first hate crime legislation after the attack. Indiana, South Carolina, Wyoming, Arkansas and Georgia are the only states in the union without hate crime statutes. Georgia's hate crime statute was struck down by the state's supreme court in 2004. A group of Democratic congressional lawmakers have also responded, pushing for a censure resolution on President Donald Trump's response to the attack.


Here's why the Charlottesville attack won't be charged as terrorism

Two former neo-Nazis explained how to confront racists

Charlottesville was a perfect storm for violence

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