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Georgia v. Torres and Norton

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression
  • Date of Decision
    February 27, 2017
  • Outcome
    Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Imprisonment, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
    16CV145
  • Region & Country
    United States, North America
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Hate Speech
  • Tags
    Racism, Terrorism, Violence

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Georgia Superior Court Judge William McClain convicted the Defendants, members of the white-supremacist group “Respect the Flag”, of making terrorist threats and violating Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. They were sentenced to a combined 19 years in prison and would not be allowed to enter Douglas County, where the crime occurred, following their release.

Jose Torres and Kayla Norton were taking part in a two-day rampage carried out by “Respect the Flag” when they showed up at an outdoor birthday party for an African-American child where they hurled racial slurs, made armed threats, and waved Confederate battle flags.

Judge McClain said that the Defendants’ acts were racially-motivated and reasoned that he had to consider the motivation of the incident even though First Amendment protections for free speech weren’t engaged because Georgia is one of a handful of states that doesn’t have a hate crime law. The Judge was also mindful that the incident occurred just a month after another racially-motivated assault when Dylann Roof shot down nine African-American worshipers in a Charleston, S.C. church. “With the tension in this country, the absolute last thing we need is people riding around with the Confederate flag threatening people,” Judge McCLain said.

Some information was derived from blogs, bulletin boards, and other similar online sources and may not have been verified. It should also be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about the case. 


Facts

Jose Torres and Kayla Norton, members of the white-supremacist group “Respect the Flag” were convicted of making “terroristic threats” and violating the State’s street gang terrorism law.  Torres was also convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The couple pulled up to an eight-year old African-American child’s birthday party in Douglasville as part of a racist spree by “Respect the Flag” in Douglas and Paulding Counties, west of Atlanta. They arrived in a truck displaying the Confederate flag, shouted racial slurs at the attendees, and pulled out a shotgun threatening to kill the people there.

Criminal charges have also been brought against several other members of “Respect the Flag”.

 


Decision Overview

Douglas Superior County Court Judge McClain said that the Defendants’ actions were motivated by racial hatred as he sentenced Torres to 20 years, with 13 to serve in prison and seven on supervised release, and Norton to 15 years, with six to serve and 9 on probation. He also said that they would be banished from Douglas County on their release.

Judge McClain said that he had to consider the motivation of the incident even though First Amendment protections for free speech weren’t engaged because Georgia is one of a handful of states that doesn’t have a hate crime law. The Judge was also mindful that the incident occurred just a month after another racially-motivated assault when Dylann Roof shot down nine African-American worshipers in a Charleston, S.C. church. “With the tension in this country, the absolute last thing we need is people riding around with the Confederate flag threatening people,” Judge McCLain said.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

This case provides a mixed outcome in the area of free speech. Although First Amendment protection for free speech wasn’t engaged because Georgia doesn’t have a hate crime law, the Judge said he had to consider the motivation for the incident, namely racial hatred. If this was the reason for the stiff sentences, the question arises as to whether higher sentencing for racially-motivated crime infringes on the free speech rights of the Defendants. (For seminal case on hate speech and First Amendment rights see R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul).

 

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act 1992

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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