On August 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the convictions of 16 defendants accused of cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women in violation of the federal hate crimes statute, a law that prohibits assaults perpetrated “because of” the victims’ religion. The case, known as the “Amish Beard-Trimming Case,” garnered national attention.
In response to a request from the Sixth Circuit, a Thompson Hine team consisting of John Mitchell, Matt Ridings, Holly Little, Mark Butscha, Frank DeSantis, and Kip Bollin represented Anna Miller, one of the defendants appealing the conviction, on a pro bono basis.
In reviewing the decision, the Sixth Circuit held that the trial court improperly instructed the jury that “because of” meant the victims’ religion must be a “significant factor” motivating the assaults. This was inaccurate, and the appeals court determined that the defendants’ proposed instruction that “because of” means the victims’ religion must be a “but for” cause of the assaults should have been given. The Sixth Circuit held that “All roads lead to the same conclusion: For an assault to be a federal hate crime, the victim’s protected characteristic must be a but-for cause behind the defendant’s decision to act.” The court further held that this error was not harmless and remanded the case for further proceedings.