Wisconsin v. Mitchell

Facts of the Case

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

Question

Did the increase in Mitchell’s sentence based on his bigoted motives violate his First Amendment rights?

CONCLUSION

No. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court found that the Wisconsin statute paralleled antidiscrimination laws which had been found to comply with the First Amendment. It also determined that the consequences for the victim and the community tended to be more severe, when the victim of a crime was chosen on account of his or her race. Thus, when the Wisconsin statute increased the sentence for such crimes, it was not punishing the defendant for his or her bigoted beliefs or statements, but rather the predicted ramifications of his or her crime. Finally, the Court concluded that the Wisconsin statute did not violate the right to free speech because the occasion in which an average person’s racist comments would be used against him or her in a court of law would arise so rarely that he or she would not feel forced to suppress them.

Case Information

  • Citation: 508 US 476 (1993)
  • Argued: Apr 21, 1993
  • Decided Jun 11, 1993