Being accused of committing a crime is a serious situation. History is full of examples of individuals wrongly accused who had to wait decades to be proven innocent. This is due in part to a societal presumption in favor of law enforcement. After all, the investigative tools available to law enforcement give such an advantage that, when a prosecutor makes the decision to charge someone with a crime, in many cases, the court of public opinion has already convicted the individual. While change in public perception is not always possible, retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to ensuring that a suspected or charged individual has the best possible chance at either an acquittal or a mitigation of penalty. One area of criminal law that has trended upwards lately is the controversial matter of hate crimes legislation, which raises the penalty for a crime if it can be proven that the crime was committed as a result of a particular characteristic of the victim.
California Hate Crimes Law
A hate crime is a prejudice-motivated crime which occurs when an aggressor is alleged to have targeted a victim because of the victim’s membership (or perceived membership) within a certain social group. Examples of such social groups include race, sex, ethnicity, disability, language, nationality, physical appearance, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The underlying crime may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, mail crime, or offensive graffiti or letters. While the stated purpose of a hate crime is to deter bias-motivated violence, there have been no studies shown as to whether this purpose has been realized.
The California hate crime statute imposes additional punishment if an individual harms, threatens, or harasses another because of that person’s:
- Religion; or
- Sexual orientation.
Consequences and Strategies
According to California law, an individual who commits a felony (or attempts to commit a felony) which is also determined to be a hate crime will have his/her prison penalty increased by one, two, or three years, at the court’s discretion. If the individual also voluntarily acts in concert with another, he/she will have his/her prison penalty increased by two, three or four years, also at the court’s discretion.
One of the controversial aspects of hate crimes legislation is that it is extremely hard to ascertain that the reason a crime was committed was because the victim had one of the above-listed characteristics. Consequently, it is all too common for people to get wrongly accused of hate crimes. In some cases, there is a rush to judgment merely because the victim is from a different social group than the defendant. A competent criminal defense attorney can assert one of the following defenses in response to such an accusation:
- The individual did not commit a crime (hate crime or not) in the first place;
- The individual may have committed a crime, but it was not motivated by bias; or
- The individual’s conduct is protected as free speech under the U.S. Constitution.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have either been suspected or charged with a hate crime, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. Immediate action is needed to preserve evidence and witness testimony. Contact the Los Angeles criminal defense firm today for an initial case analysis.