Law School Case Brief
Wisconsin v. Mitchell - 508 U.S. 476, 113 S. Ct. 2194 (1993)
The First Amendment does not prohibit the evidentiary use of speech to establish the elements of a crime or to prove motive or intent. Evidence of a defendant's previous declarations or statements is commonly admitted in criminal trials subject to evidentiary rules dealing with relevancy, reliability, and the like.
After respondent Mitchell requested that a group of black males attack a white boy who was walking nearby, the group beat the boy severely. In the Circuit Court of Kenosha County, Wisconsin, Mitchell was convicted of aggravated battery, which, under a Wisconsin statute, ordinarily carried a maximum prison sentence of two years. However, because the jury found that the accused had intentionally selected his victim because of the victim's race, the circuit court sentenced the accused to four years' imprisonment, under a Wisconsin penalty-enhancement statute, known as the "hate crimes" statute, which provided a longer maximum sentence for an offense whenever an accused intentionally selected a victim because of the victim's race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry. On appeal of the conviction and sentence, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the accused's contention that the penalty-enhancement statute violated the First Amendment. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, reversing the Court of Appeals judgment, held that the statute (1) violated the First Amendment by punishing what the state legislature had deemed to be offensive thought, and (2) was unconstitutionally overbroad because the evidentiary use of speech uttered before the commission of an offense subject to the penalty enhancement would have a chilling effect on those who feared the possibility of prosecution for such an offense. Petitioner State sought further review.
Where a criminal defendant's sentence for aggravated battery was enhanced because he intentionally selected his victim on account of the victim's race, were the defendant's First Amendment freedom of speech and association rights violated by the application of the penalty-enhancement sentencing provision in the state's "hate crimes" statute?
On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the lower court's invalidation of the state penalty-enhancement statute, holding that Mitchell's First Amendment freedom of speech and association rights were not violated by the application of the penalty-enhancement sentencing provision. The Court held that the "hate crimes" statute was not constitutionally overbroad because the claimed First Amendment "chilling effect" was far more attenuated and speculative than traditional "over-breadth" cases. The First Amendment does not prohibit the evidentiary use of speech to establish the elements of a crime or to prove motive or intent. Moreover, the Wisconsin statute singled out for enhancement bias-inspired conduct because such conduct was thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm.
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