Mitchell v Wisconsin




Mitchell v. Wisconsin
Why Mitchell v. Wisconsin Sucked

On June 11, 1993, the United State Supreme Court upheld Wisconsin¹s
penalty enhancement law, which imposes harsher sentences on criminals
who ³intentionally select the person against whom the crime...is
committed..because of the race, religion, color, disability, sexual
orientation, national origin or ancestry of that person.² Chief
Justice Rehnquist deliverd the opinion of the unanimous Court. This
paper argues against the decision, and will attempt to prove the
unconstitutionality of such penalty enhancement laws.
On the evening of October 7, 1989, Mitchell and a group of young
black men attacked and severely beat a lone white boy. The group had
just finished watching the film ³Mississippi Burning², in which a
young black boy was, while praying, beaten by a white man. After the
film, the group moved outside and Mitchell asked if they felt ³hyped
up to move on some white people². When the white boy approached
Mitchell said, ³You all want to fuck somebody up? There goes a white
boy, Go get him.² The boy was left unconscious, and remained in a
coma for four days. Mitchell was convicted of aggravated battery,
which carries a two year maximum sentence. The Wisconsin jury,
however, found that because Mitchell selected his victim based on
race, the penalty enhancement law allowed Mitchell to be sentenced to
up to seven years. The jury sentenced Mitchell to four years, twice
the maximum for the crime he committed without the penalty enhancement
law.
The U.S. Supreme Court¹s ruling was faulty, and defied a number of
precedents. The Wisconsin law is unconstitutional, and is essentially
unenforceable. This paper primarily focuses on the constitutional
arguments against Chief Justice Rehnquist¹s decision and the statute
itself, but will also consider the practical implications of the
Wisconsin law, as well as a similar law passed under the new federal
crime bill (Cacas, 32). The Wisconsin law and the new federal law are
based on a model created by the Anti- Defemation League in response to
a rising tide of hate-related violent crimes (Cacas, 33). Figures
released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that 7,684 hate
crimes motivated by race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation
were reported in 1993, up from 6,623 the previous year. Of those
crimes in 1993, 62 percent were racially motivated (Cacas, 32).
Certainly, this is a problem the nation must address. Unfortunately,
the Supreme Court of the United States and both the Wisconsin and
federal governments have chosen to address this problem in a way that
is grossly unconstitutional.
³Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise therof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.²
The most obvious arguments against the Mitchell decision are those
dealing with the First Amendment. In fact, the Wisconsin Supreme
Court ruled that the state statute was unconstitutional in their
decision, which the U.S. Supreme Court overruled. The Wisconsim
Supreme Court argued that the Wisconsin penalty enhancement statute,
³violates the First Amendment directly by punishing what the
legislature has deemed offensive thought.² The Wisconsin Court also
rejected the state¹s argument ³that the statute punishes only the
Œconduct¹ of intentional selection of a victim². The Court¹s
contention was that ³the statute punishes the Œbecause of¹ aspect of
the defendant¹s selection, the reason the defendant selected the
victim, the motive behind the selection.² The law is in fact a
direct violation of the First Amendment, according to the Wisconsin
Supreme Court, which said ³the Wisconsin legislature cannot
criminalize bigoted thought with which it disagrees.²
³If there is a bedrock principal underlying the First Amendment, it
is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea
simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or
disagreeable². The Supreme Court was heard to utter such noble
phrases as recently as 1989, in Texas v. Johnson. Unfortunately these
idealistic principles seem to have been abandoned during Wisconsin v.
Mitchell.
Clearly, Mitchell¹s act of assaulting another human is a punishable
crime, and no one could logiacally argue that the First Amendment
protects this clearly criminal action. However, the state¹s power to
punish the action does not