U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently voiced renewed intent to crack down on hate crimes. Why the focus on these types of offenses?
According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 250,000 hate crimes occurred each year between 2004 and 2015, yet more than half of those crimes were not reported.
“We will continue to protect the civil rights of all Americans and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in our country,” Sessions stated in a recent hate crimes summit with the Justice Department.
It seems the DOJ is about to push back against something that is already a huge problem.
What does this mean for you if you are arrested for a hate crime?
First, you need to understand what the legal definition of a hate crime is.
Understanding What “Hate Crime” Really Means
According to federal law, a hate crime is an offense that involves “attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” These attempts can be made using physical contact or through the deployment of “a firearm, dangerous weapon, or explosive or incendiary device.”
Here’s an example of the difference between a general crime and a hate crime:
If a defendant assaults a Hispanic man, the charge is not automatically classified as a hate crime, but as an assault. However, if there is evidence that the defendant intended to assault the Hispanic man because he is Hispanic, a hate crime charge can be filed.
Hate crimes laws protect people based on actual or perceived characteristics. In the example above, it’s not necessary to prove that the victim is Hispanic. If the defendant perceives that the man is Hispanic and attacks the man, the defendant can still be charged with a hate crime.
Different states have different laws regarding hate crimes. Generally, hate crimes fall into three categories:
- Crimes of institutional vandalism (such as defacing a place of worship)
- Crimes against members of a specific group (such as a race or gender)
- Aggravated charges in addition to general criminal charges
- A new law goes into effect in Texas in September 2017 that protects police from hate crimes.This new law adds “peace officer or judge” to the list of protected citizens in a hate crime case.
The new hate crime offers additional protection in cases like this one.
This law enforcement hate crime law stems from a shooting spree in Dallas in July of 2016 that left five officers dead. Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the gunman “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
The report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that racial bias is the top motivation for hate crimes. Between 2011 and 2015, racial bias comprised 48 percent of cases. Ethnicity made up 35 percent of those cases, and sexual orientation encompassed 22 percent.
“We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims,” Attorney General Sessions said in a recent speech. His speech also mentioned other recent hate crimes cases, including a Texas case of arson against an Islamic center.
Consequences of Getting a Hate Crime Conviction
Federal law makes hate crimes are punishable with fines and/or up to 10 years in prison. If the crime results in death, involves kidnapping or attempt to kidnap, or involves aggravated sexual abuse or the attempt to do so, the sentence can be up to life in prison or the death penalty.
In many states, civil lawsuits may also be filed in conjunction with the hate crime charges.
If you are charged with a hate crime, what can you use as your defense strategy?
Some defendants have challenged hate crime charges by stating that the First Amendment guarantees rights to free speech. However, those challenges have had limited success, since they protect speech, but not hate-based conduct.
Generally speaking, if a defendant wins a fight against a hate crime charge, it is because the prosecution was unable to prove that a crime was motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, or other prohibition. Proving that a defendant acted with intent due to bias can be challenging. Evidence may include hateful slurs made during the crime or the defendant’s admission of bias.
Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are charged with committing a hate crime. A knowledgeable attorney can help you build a strong defense case and give you the best chance at a positive outcome. Your rights deserve protection, and a qualified attorney can help protect your rights.