On Feb. 8, 2013, Judge Dan Aaron Polster sentenced Samuel Mullet to fifteen years in prison for orchestrating a series of beard- and haircutting incidents among members of his Amish sect in Bergholz, Ohio. Mullet took responsibility for the crimes, and he could have received a sentence of life imprisonment. The defense attorney claimed he received a de facto one, given his age (67). The federal hate crimes act is codified at 18 U.S.C. 249 (2011).
The judge said the “attacks were designed to terrorize and traumatize, and calculated to inflict the maximum amount of stress on the victims.” Hair and beards carry a great deal of religious significance to the Amish, adding to the humiliation of the victims. Prosecutors said the haircutting involved home invasions and violent assaults. Defense attorneys had tried to portray the incidents as simple assaults during which no one was seriously hurt, rather than religiously-motivated hate crimes. Mullet’s fifteen followers who actually carried out the attacks received sentences ranging from one to seven years. U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach called Mullet a cult leader and a religious thug, sentiments echoed by the Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling. The references to Mullet being the bishop of a runaway sect may help counter the defense argument that the events were merely internal religious disputes. CWRU Law professor Jonathan Entin told NPR’s David Barnett that “something really bad happened here, and whatever the appropriate criminal sentence ought to be, it’s hard to say we should just look the other way.” In the same segment, Ohio State Law professor Douglas A. Berman also said that the federal government has a “strong interest” in upholding national criminal laws, no matter how isolated the community is in which the crimes occur.
Knowling and the “normally reclusive” Amish, who usually prefer to handle matters internally, reached out to the federal prosecutors for help with this situation that had gotten out of control, and required resources beyond the normal capacity of Holmes County. At a presentation at the CWRU School of Law, the prosecution team described a couple ways they argued that the case involved interstate crime, even though all the events happened in Ohio. For instance, some of the cutting tools were made in New York and delivered via the U.S. mail. The Amish perpetrators hired drivers to get to the homes they invaded. The hired drivers drove them through various counties in Ohio, and could have driven them across state lines. The feds also helped obtain evidence from a disposable camera containing pictures of some of the attacks.
Judge Rejects Ohio Amish Hate Crimes Challenge. USA Today (5/31/2012)
Judge Polster’s judicial opinion (5/31/2012) denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the grounds that the hate crimes law is unconstitutional, that the defendants’ First Amendment rights to freedom of religion were being infringed, and that the hate crimes law (if constitutional) was not intended to cover intra-religious disputes.
Hate Crimes (Westlaw database, June, 2012)
Imran Awan and Brian Blakemore, eds. Policing Cyber Hate, Cyber Threats and Cyber Terrorism. Ashgate, 2012. OhioLINK
Valerie Jenness. Hate Crimes. In The Oxford Handbook of Crime and Public Policy. Oxford University Press, 2011. OhioLINK
Donald Altschiller. Hate Crimes: A Reference Handbook. 2nd ed., 2005. (OhioLINK e-book)
Phyllis B. Gerstenfeld. Hate Crimes: Causes, Controls, and Controversies. 2nd ed. SAGES, 2011. OhioLINK
Selected, Recent Articles
M.E. Ryan and P.T. Leeson. Hate Groups and Hate Crime. 31(4) Int’l Rev. L. & Econ. 256 (2011). (full-text for OhioLINK patrons via EJC)
A Simple Model of Optimal Hate Crime Legislation. 49(3) Economic Inquiry 674 (2011). (full-text for OhioLINK patrons via EJC)
Nickie D. Phillips. The Prosecution of Hate Crimes. 24(5) J. Interpersonal Violence 883 (2009). (full-text for OhioLINK patrons via EJC)
Human Rights Campaign, Hate Crimes Q & A (Feb. 1, 2010).