Legal experts say a Club Q shooting suspect identified as non-binary won’t stop them from being charged with hate crimes

Identifying as non-binary wouldn’t prevent potential hate crime charges for the shooter accused of killing five people and injuring 17 others at a gay club in Colorado.

Authorities said the shooter fired shots for nearly six minutes at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday before club patrons helped deal with the shooter on the ground and police arrived. Officials said the suspect’s shooting attack on an LGBTQ organization on the eve of International Transgender Memorial Day immediately raised the possibility that the incident was a targeted attack against the LGBT community.

A 22-year-old has been arrested and is being held on preliminary charges of murder and hate crimes, according to authorities. The suspect, who showed bruises, appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday, where prosecutors said they would file formal charges at a hearing in early December.

A defense attorney for the suspect said in the initial court filing that the accused shooter identified as non-binary and used the pronouns they/them — a somewhat surprising development given the suspect’s history of anti-LGBT remarks.

Legal experts said identifying them as non-binary would not protect them from the possibility of formal hate crime charges on top of the impending murder charges.

“It’s not relevant,” said Neama Rahmani, West Coast’s chief trial attorney and former federal prosecutor, of the suspect’s gender identity. “Obviously the defense is going to want to have him, but it’s not a defense.”

Neither the suspect nor their defense has said definitively whether they plan to use the accused shooter’s gender identity as part of their defence, but including the suspect’s pronouns and gender identity in the court filing Tuesday was a “very strategic move” by their defense, said Rahmani, who is working on Most likely already to build empathy and stave off the possibility of additional charges.

“It’s definitely something the defense will try to use, but it’s not in and of itself a preclude for hate crime charges based on other evidence,” said Brian Levine, a professor of criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino. from the inside.

Legal experts said that members of a marginalized group have the legal capacity to commit hate crimes against members of their own marginalized group.

Levin said: “The notion that a person may belong to a group does not mean that some controversies revolving around membership or that group would preclude accusations of hate crimes.”

Prosecuting hate crimes in Colorado has become easier lately

Rahmani said that prosecutors pursuing hate crime charges in Colorado previously had to prove that a suspect’s intent was motivated entirely by hate — an admittedly difficult task given the impossible nature of “getting into someone’s head,” forcing prosecutors to rely on circumstantial evidence. .

Proving that a suspect committed a crime solely motivated by hate is so challenging, Rahmani added, that prosecutors often choose not to pursue additional charges even in cases where bias is a possible motive.

But in 2021, Colorado lawmakers rewrote the state’s hate crime laws in an effort to make it easier to prosecute bias-based crimes. Now, prosecutors only have to prove that hate or prejudice was a “partial” motive in the crime, which opens the door to more charges and convictions.

“Obviously, this is important because there could be different reasons why someone would want to kill another person,” Rahmani said.

He added that politics could also play a role in the prosecutor’s choice to charge a hate crime suspect.

“If you’re a plaintiff, you really want to enforce these laws when you can. They send a message,” Rahmani said. “Your job is to protect minorities like this.”


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