- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2019

D.C. Council member Charles Allen repeatedly expressed disappointment Wednesday that federal prosecutors did not send a representative to his Judiciary Committee hearing on the lack of prosecution of hate crimes in the District.

“It’s not just offensive or insulting to the council or to me, it is insulting and offensive to the entire city, to every District resident,” said Mr. Allen, the committee’s chairman.

The Ward 6 Democrat also noted that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO) did not respond to two letters from D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting congressional representative, seeking more information about hate crimes in the District.

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“What in the world do you think it tells our LGBTQ community, that the USAO won’t even show up for a conversation about hate crimes?” Mr. Allen said. “It is deeply offensive.”

U.S. Attorney Jessica Liu submitted a letter to the committee Wednesday in lieu of attending the hearing, noting the challenges her office faces in prosecuting hate crimes and ways in which it is addressing the issue.

“We regularly participate in open dialogue about combating bias-related crimes … But we will not testify in person at today’s hearing, as its title shows that the Committee has reached a conclusion — that the Office is failing to prosecute potential bias-related offenses — before a full and fair consideration of the facts,” Miss Liu said in a press release, noting the hearing’s title — “Hate Crimes in the District of Columbia and the Failure to Prosecute by the Office of the United States Attorney.”

“This unjustly maligns the Office’s dedicated career prosecutors, who carefully review every arrest identified as a potential bias-related crime and make principled charging decisions based solely on the law and the facts,” the U.S. attorney for the District wrote.

In a brief interview with The Washington Times after the hearing, Ms. Liu said her office has a number of full-time staff dedicated to working with victims and in the community and that she has met with the Anti-Defamation League and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners on the topic.

She also said that successfully prosecuting hate crimes can be difficult.

“When we actually bring the bias enhancement, we have to believe we can prove it beyond reasonable doubt or we are ethically [compromised],” Ms. Liu told The Times, adding that she responded to Mrs. Norton’s letters on Wednesday.

Mr. Allen scheduled Wednesday’s hearing after The Washington Post detailed a recent increase in hate crimes in the District while the U.S. attorney’s office has prosecuted five cases with the hate crime enhancement of the 113 cases the Metropolitan Police Department made arrests for in 2017 and 2018 — a record low.

In the District, local crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney, who is appointed by the president, which Mr. Allen said makes it difficult to hold the office accountable.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue said the city is seeing a 14% increase in hate crimes from this time last year, and there was a 16% increase in hate crimes in 2018.

In her written testimony, Ms. Liu said that the jury instructions do not make clear whether the motivation for the crime has to be solely bias-related or only partially in order to receive the hate crime enhancement, which allows a court to fine or sentence a hate crime felon up to 1½ times the amount of the underlying crime.

Mike Silverstein, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2B06, said jury instructions need to be updated, adding that they “do not even include the phrase ‘gender identity’ but they do include outdated language such as ‘handicap’ instead of ‘disability.’ Clean it up, make it clear.”

Mr. Allen said that although the council does not write the jury instructions, it can change the language in the statute that defines hate crimes, which would inform the jury instructions.

“One would think, if she feels that the statute needs to change, she’d actually go talk to the people who write the statute,” Mr. Allen said of Ms. Liu.

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