Wisconsin v. Mitchell the Supreme Court Case Research Paper

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Wisconsin v. Mitchell

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The Supreme Court case Wisconsin vs. Mitchell highlights a number of different challenges faced in America, where the ideas of free speech are protected by the First Amendment. Yet, is free speech applied to hate crimes and those crimes that are targeted towards a particular ethnic group or nationality? This question was the main point of contention being argued by Mitchell; as the reasons why his sentence should be reduced. What happened was: Todd Mitchell had finished watching the movie Mississippi Burning. In one scene Mitchell and the group were particularly enraged by the killing of an African-American boy for praying. As the discussion became more heated, Mitchell began to suggest that something must be done. It was at this point, that 14-year-old Gregory Reddick (a white male) was walking home from a pizza parlor. After spotting Reddick, Mitchell said, "Do you all feel hyped up to move on some white people? You all want to f#@* somebody up? There goes a white boy; go get him." At which point, ten people surrounded Reddick and began to savagely beat him. Unconscious, one member of the group commented about how they had killed Reddick; and then proceeded to take his British Knights sneakers. These would be a trophy of conquest of the attack, as they were shown off at the apartment complex by Mitchell. Reddick was able to survive the attack, after remaining in a comma for four days. In a jury trial Mitchell, was charged and found guilty of aggravated assault. He was given the maximum sentence of seven years under Wisconsin law. In an appeal, Mitchell claimed that the sentence was to severe because it allowed for stiffer penalties for those who target individuals based on race. With the defense claiming, that this aspect of the law violated his First Amendment right to free speech and asked to have the case overturned.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Wisconsin v. Mitchell the Supreme Court Case Assignment

During the arguments both the state and Mitchell were using previous Supreme Court decisions as a precedent to include: R.A.V vs. St. Paul, Barclay vs. Florida, Dawson vs. Delaware, Haupt vs. United States and New York vs. Ferber. It is through examining how these cases affected Wisconsin vs. Mitchell; that will provide the greatest insights as to the overall complexity of this case.

What makes Wisconsin vs. Mitchell such a complicated case is the different Supreme Court rulings on the matter of targeting someone based on race. In the case of Mitchell, the defense had three different previous Supreme Court cases that he could use, R.A.V vs. St. Paul, Barclay vs. Florida and Dawson vs. Delaware. Under R.A.V vs. St. Paul, the Supreme Court found in 1992, that the burning of a cross by two St. Paul teenagers in front of the house of an African-American was considered free speech. What happened was the two were charged under the City of St. Paul's anti-hate crime ordinance. The defense argued that the law was unconstitutional, because it was broad and could be used to target any kind of free speech deemed as inappropriate. The Supreme Court sided with the petitioner, because the law was so broad that it could arrest someone for what is known as fighting words.

This is referring to the Supreme Court case Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, where the words someone uses are not libelous if there is no social value to their meaning. Under Barclay vs. Florida, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty can not be applied to a white hitchhiker that was trying to start a race war. According to the court, for any kind sentencing to be applied, anti-discrimination laws must show aggravated intent. Because the murder was stopped after one murder; and did not have a chance to begin his plan does not satisfy this requirement.

Under Dawson vs. Delaware, the court said, that racially-based evidence can not be used to corroborate different crimes. In this particular case, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood had killed an African-American in Delaware. He was charged with aggravated murder and convicted. A part of the consideration at sentencing and during the trial was: the Aryan Brotherhood tattoo that was on the man's chest. The court ruled that aside from the tattoo, the state had no other evidence (than the actual murder) that the case was racially motivated; and could not establish that there was a racial component.

The state used two different Supreme Court cases to argue that the sentence and the law were not in violation of the First Amendment to include: Haupt vs. United States and New York vs. Ferber. Under Haupt vs. United States, a German-American spy was convicted of treason during World War II. At the heart of the case, was the fact that he had not engaged in any kind of treasonous activity (although Haupt was intending to). Because no actual treasonous activity occurred, the petitioner argued that a charge of treason can not be applied to the case. The court agreed with the government, that Haupt was involved in planning acts of sabotage. While he was not committing the act at the moment, the thought and intent show his true intentions.

Under New York vs. Ferber, the court ruled that the state has the right to regulate material that would be deemed offensive to the community. At the heart of the case, was two New York adult bookstore owners charged with selling pornographic material to a 16-year-old.

The defendants argued that they were exercising their First Amendment rights. Reversing a previous decision, the court agreed and sided with the state.

All of these different cases relate to Wisconsin vs. Mitchell; because they highlight the overall scope that local hate crime laws can be applied to the larger issue of the First Amendment. The different rulings were conflicting, because Mitchell was using them to argue that the law violated his First Amendment rights. Although, he never denied what was said prior to the attack; or the fact that he encouraged other African-Americans to attack a white teenager. While, the state used various Supreme Court cases to argue that Mitchell was engaging in more than just fighting words. This is because of what he said prior to the attack; where one could easily infer that the words used by Mitchell were the main reason why this occurred. The state then applied how they have the power to regulate pornography and other acts deemed offensive to the community. At the heart of their argument, was the fact that the law was designed to protect everyone from racial violence. This is accomplished by giving the state a tool to effectively punish those that are in violation of in engaging in such standards. In a unanimous decision the court agreed with the state; saying that the Wisconsin anti-discrimination law is in line with federal anti-discrimination laws. The court then stated that the decision R.A.V vs. St. Paul was overturned. This is because it went after the actual violence that was occurring, not the motivations behind the violence. With the court saying, "The chilling effect argument presented by Mitchell's side is not merit in this contention. This rationale was far too speculative in nature to merit a genuine complaint of a statute's constitutional over breadth. Because lesser crimes such as: the negligent operation of a motor vehicle (cited in the opinion) were: very unlikely to ever be racially-based. One would have to consider the prospect of a citizen actively suppressing their bigoted beliefs because they believed they could be used against him or her at a trial for a serious offense, such as burglary, battery, or murder. It is relatively commonplace for a defendant's prior speech to be presented to the court as evidence. This is a tool in the judicial process, often serving a vital role in establishing the defendant's motives."

Clearly, the case Wisconsin vs. Mitchell highlights a number of different issues that law is continuing to grapple with, conflicting case law. This is important in this case, because the actions of Mitchell were an obvious violation of the law. Yet, he attempted to hide behind the First Amendment and previous court cases to say that the hate that he expressed towards the victim was a violation of his Constitutional rights. Therefore, arguing that the sentence he received under the law would be cruel and unusual punishment, because of this protection. This is troubling, due to the fact that when defendants that knowingly violate the law; they will attempt to hide behind the same laws for protection. In this particular case, such an argument would not work for Mitchell, because the words that he used prior to the attack were clearly aimed at motivating the group to engage in such activity. This is significant, because the way various hate crime statues were applied throughout the country were challenged prior to this case. As the defendants, were known to be obviously engaging in such activity that was racially motivated. However, because they were able to use legal technicalities… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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