The ruling was filed in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Wednesday.
William Hatch, 31, and two co-defendants were the first people in the country charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
In April 2010, Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford of Farmington and Hatch of Fruitland were working at a McDonald’s in Farmington and persuaded a mentally disabled Navajo man at the restaurant to go to Beebe’s apartment. While he was there, the three men wrote anti-gay slurs on him and shaved a swastika into his head. They also heated a wire hangar on a stove and branded a swastika on his arm, according to court documents.
Six months after Beebe, Sanford and Hatch were charged in state court with kidnapping, battery and other charges related to the incident, the three men were indicted in federal court for violating the Matthew Shepard Act.
Hatch pleaded guilty in June 2011 to a lesser charge of conspiracy to violate the Act but appealed his conviction. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison and three years of probation, which started in February 2012. He is currently serving a three-month sentence for a probation violation.
Beebe and Sanford also pleaded guilty to lesser charges and are currently serving eight- and five-year prison sentences, respectively.
In the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Hatch’s attorney, Richard Winterbottom, unsuccessfully argued before the court that a provision of the Matthew Shepard Act was unconstitutional because Congress exceeded its 13th Amendment enforcement power in creating certain aspects of the Act.
He said adding federal hate crime charges on top of state charges for racially motivated attacks “undermines state sovereignty by granting the government unbridled and unneeded discretion to punish hate crimes that the states are effectively prosecuting,” according to court documents.
The appeals court rejected the argument and upheld Hatch’s conviction. In their opinion, the 10th Circuit judges said the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, gave Congress the power needed to create the Matthew Shepard Act.
Hatch can appeal the decision to the full 10th Circuit Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. Winterbottom could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.