A hate crime is a type of crime that is committed on account of the victim’s membership or affiliation with a particular group, creed, or lifestyle. A common example of this is where a person is assaulted on account of their race, or on account of their sexual preference. Hate crime laws are closely related to anti-discrimination laws. They may use similar categories for identifying protected groups (such as age, race, religious background, sexual preference, etc.)
Hate crimes laws generally have the effect of enhancing or increasing penalties for criminal conduct. For instance, a standard case for criminal damage to property may result in a jail sentence of 6 months to one year. However, if the court concludes that the conduct was intended to be a hate crime, the penalties may increase to more than one year. Criminal fines may also increase if the charges involve an aspect of a hate crime.
In this sense, hate crime punishments can be similar to aggravating factors that increase the sentence for the crime in question. Hate crimes can sometimes result in civil lawsuits as well.
Many hate crime incidents result in felony charges. Examples of these include batteries that result in severe bodily injury, and hate crimes that involve sexual assault. Felony charges typically involve punishments such as prison sentences of greater than one year, and increased criminal fines.
There are several laws that have been enacted to criminalize hate crimes:
- Laws that protect a targeted institution as vandalizing or defacing a church, mosque, or religious building.
- Laws that protect a person based on their specific membership of a group.
- Laws that protect a person based on their gender, sexual preference, race, or religion.
Hate crime charges often require extensive amounts of evidence for proof. This is because the court needs to be able to verify what the defendant’s motivations were in committing crime. Thus, if there is insufficient evidence to show what the defendant’s motivations were, it may serve as a defense against the hate crime aspects of the charges. However, the defendant may still be charged for the underlying offense (such as assault, etc.), and may receive the standard penalties.
Conventional defenses may also apply to the case, such as self-defense, involuntary intoxication, etc. These types of defenses may also apply to the underlying offense as well.
Hate crime laws can be different from place to place. Not all states provide the same protections for different groups. You may want to hire a criminal defense lawyer if you need assistance with any type of criminal charges. Your attorney can provide you with advice on the matter, and can represent you during trial if needed.