Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg recently decided not to charge Alexander Jerich with a hate crime for intentionally defacing the Delray Beach LGBTQ Pride Intersection. Aronberg’s decision highlights a significant problem with a narrow interpretation of the law.
Florida’s hate crime law requires enhanced penalties when a crime 'evidences prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status or advanced age of the victim.'
According to police department’s Probable Cause Affidavit, Jerich’s cohorts directed him to 'tear up that gay intersection.' So, even the perpetrator recognized his 'victim' as gay.
However, Aronberg determined the law required 'the defendant select a specific victim based on sexual orientation…. [and because] a city has no sexual orientation, the state’s hate crime enhancement law cannot apply.'
Having determined the 'victim' was the City of Delray Beach and not the LGBTQ Pride Intersection, Aronberg refused to charge Jerich with a hate crime.
Would Aronberg refuse invoke the hate crimes law if vandals painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on the sidewalk
in front of a kosher butcher shop? It seems that way.
Aronberg’s narrow interpretation of the law shines a light on the problem: the law may not adequately punish all hate crimes. Therefore, Aronberg must work with the Legislature to ensure the law is amended to address all crimes based on prejudice -- regardless of whether the victim is a person or a public place.
A second law Aronberg refused to use was Florida’s Combatting Public Disorder Act, which provides anyone who 'willfully and maliciously defaces, injures, or otherwise damages by any means a memorial…. and the value of the damage to the memorial…. is greater than $200, commits a felony of the third degree…. [and, if convicted, pays] restitution, which shall include the full cost of repair or replacement of such memorial...'
Jerich’s actions, caught on video, demonstrated that each element of the law was met. Had Aronberg secured a felony conviction under this law, Jerich would have been required to reimburse Delray Beach for the cost incurred by the taxpayers to repair the intersection.
Relying only on the remaining charges, Aronberg now must ensure that Jerich is convicted of a felony, serves time behind bars, and reimburses the City of Delray Beach.
Short of that, we will have to question whether justice has been served.
Judge Rand Hoch (ret.), president and founder Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Inc. is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.