Legal expert says this is how a hate crimes law would change the Ahmaud Arbery case

ATLANTA — Outrage over the Ahmaud Arbery killing has renewed calls from community activists and lawmakers for the state of Georgia to pass a hate crimes law.

Georgia is one of only four states in the U.S. that does not have a hate crime law on the books.

Last year, House Bill 416 was passed in the Georgia House with support from both sides of the aisle but stalled in the Senate. It was the latest of several attempts over the years to get such a law passed.

Channel 2 anchor Jorge Estevez spoke with Georgia State University professor Jessica Cino, who is a former defense attorney, about how hate crimes charges would change a case like Arbery’s and how the coronavirus will impact what happens next.

“If you want a charge that is particularized to just a hate crime, then in Georgia that is not available. So really it is up to the Department of Justice to step in at that point and prosecute a crime per se,” Cino said.


Estevez asked Cino why hate crime charges would elevate a case.

“It elevates it because it injects a component into the case where specifically this person has been targeted on the basis of their race,” Cino said. “If the defendant has made any statements online or otherwise regarding a particular racial group, then that would come in as evidence against them.”

“Let’s talk about the current climate we’re in because of coronavirus. Just Monday, the extending of the judicial emergency, no indictments, no grand juries, so what can we expect here?” Estevez asked Cino.

“Everything is going to be put on a grand hold in Georgia,” Cino said. “Right now, it’s probably hurry up and wait as it relates to the state charges at least.”

Because of the shutdown due to the coronavirus, there is already a backlog of cases in the judicial system across the state. Estevez asked Cino if some cases would be handled before others.

“Once this does get going, there’s going to be a backlog. We’re not going to see this progress for months,” Cino said. “They’re going to have to clear what was already on the books before coronavirus when they had the shutdown. And there’s going to be back and forth with the defense attorneys and prosecutors really trying to negotiate a timeline because we’re in uncharted territory.”

The judicial emergency in Georgia has been extended to June 12, meaning there will be no grand jury and no indictments in the McMichaels’ state case until then, unless the state Supreme Court extends the emergency again.