The government and media tend to devote more time and resources to crimes that are as viewed as posing a greater risk to society, typically offenses related to drugs or violence. Hate crimes have gained particular attention, both nationally and in California, in response to a rise in the amount of violent action taken against minorities for discriminatory purposes, with a marked increase after last year’s presidential election. California takes a particularly harsh stance against such acts, and imposes substantial prison sentences on those convicted of this crime. Anyone facing hate crime charges needs a criminal defense attorney to fight these allegations because the potential loss of liberty is so significant. A recent article in the Sacramento Bee discussed the number of reports of hate crime throughout the State, and found that Los Angeles, and dense urban centers in general, represented the largest portion of the 11 percent increase in hate crime from 2015 to 2016, though officials think these incidents are underreported by at least 50 percent. Given the large amount of attention this type of offense is receiving from the public and lawmakers, law enforcement and State prosecutors are more likely to target anyone suspected of committing such crimes to show they are taking this issue seriously. Thus, it is important to understand what the law considers to be a hate crime so the appropriate response can be taken in the event criminal charges are filed.
A hate crime occurs when someone takes an illegal action based on the perception or existence of certain protected characteristics, namely:
- religion; or
- sexual orientation.
Note that committing a crime based on an incorrect perception a person has one of the characteristics listed above is sufficient to be guilty according to the law. Thus, it does not matter whether a person has a protected characteristic, just the belief/motivation of the accused attacker. This bias must be the factor that largely pushes an individual to commit the offense, but it does not have to the only reason. However, hate crime convictions are used to enhance criminal sentences, so there must be an underlying crime, and California has two ways a prosecutor can establish this requirement – a stand-alone hate crime statute or following the commission of any misdemeanor or felony based on a prohibited bias.
Stand-alone Hate Crime Statute
California law says it is a crime in and of itself if someone acts, based on prohibited bias, to:
- intentionally injure, intimidate or threaten someone that prevents the exercise of a person’s civil rights; or
- intentionally damage or destroy a person’s property in order to interfere with the exercise of his/her legal and constitutional rights.
Violation of this law is enough to receive criminal penalties, and the prosecutor does not have to prove any other California criminal law was violated. However, speech, without a physical act, is not enough to be convicted under this statute, unless:
- the speech threatened violence; and
- the accused had an evident ability to carry out the threat.
A conviction for this offense is a misdemeanor and subject to sentences of up to one year in jail, $5,000 in fines, and 400 hours of community service.
Other Misdemeanor or Felony Offense
The other, and more common way, a hate crime can be charged comes as an enhancement to an underlying misdemeanor or felony offense when the offense is connected with a prohibited bias. Thus, a person facing such charges would be punished for the underlying offense and also receive an enhanced sentence for the hate crime motivation. For misdemeanors, this could result in up to three years in prison if the prosecutor chooses to elevate the charges to a felony (permitted if the misdemeanor is separate from the hate crime charge), as well as felony probation and a $10,000 fine. For underlying felonies, an additional one to three years can be added to a sentence, which is increased if more than one person was involved in the crime.
Hire a Criminal Offense Attorney
Being accused of any criminal offense should be taken seriously, and a person in this situation should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC understands how overwhelming this situation is, and has attorneys available 24/7 to take your call and start giving your case the vigorous defense it needs. Contact us for a free consultation.