Understanding a Hate Crime Charge in CA
When someone is accused of committing a hate crime, they face enhanced penalties under both federal and state law that can extend their sentence. Hate crimes are essentially any crime that involves an element of bias, such as crimes committed based on the victim’s race, gender, or sexuality. These charges not only come with harsh criminal penalties, but can forever damage your reputation if you do not have a strong legal defense.
What Is a Hate Crime?
Hate crimes are prosecuted in California on a state and federal level. The definition of a hate crime under state law is: “a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim:
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
- Association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.”
A person who injures or threatens another because of one or more of these protected characteristics will be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
If a person commits a separate misdemeanor or a felony crime and the prosecution can show that it was committed as a hate crime, the defendant is subject to enhanced penalties upon conviction. This means larger fines, longer jail time, and a possible state prison sentence.
How Can a Typical Crime Become a Hate Crime?
A criminal offense can be charged as a hate crime if the prosecutor can prove that: the defendant was biased against the victim because of one or more protected characteristics, actual or perceived; that bias is what caused the defendant to commit the crime. For example, if a man who is openly homophobic and frequently disparages gays assaults and injures a gay man in a bar simply for being homosexual, typical assault and battery charges may be elevated to a hate crime with enhanced penalties.
How Prevalent Are Hate Crimes in California?
In 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available:
- 1,237 people were reported to be victims of hate crimes in California, as stated by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
- The number of hate crime suspects increased by 7.9% from 1,013 in 2017 to 1,093 in 2018.
- 594 hate crime events involving racial bias were reported in 2018.
- 201 hate crime events involving religion were reported.
- 238 hate crime events involving sexual orientation were reported.
- 838 violent hate crime offenses were reported in 2018.
What Types of Crimes Are Frequently Charged as Hate Crimes?
According to data provided by the DOJ, most hate crimes are based on a single bias, rather than biases against multiple protected characteristics. Violent crimes account for 66.1% of total hate crimes. Property crimes, such as vandalism, arson, burglary, and larceny account for 33.6% of the total. In the most recent year for which statistics are available (2018), the violent hate crimes committed most frequently were:
- Simple assault (286 cases)
- Intimidation (273 cases)
- Aggravated assault (239 cases)
- Robbery (39 cases)
Can You Be Guilty of a Hate Crime Without Breaking Any Other Laws?
A hate crime cannot consist solely of hatred and ill-will toward a specific race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, or other protected characteristic. Free speech is still protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For a hate crime to occur, there has to be an underlying criminal act. It is not a crime to speak your mind or hate a person or group, unless that bias is the motivating factor behind an unlawful act you commit against that person or group.
Speak to a Lawyer Today
If you have been arrested or charged with any crime, it is in your best interests to speak with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Legal representation is particularly important if you are charged with a hate crime, as the criminal penalties are enhanced – and the media will have a field day. Call Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP at (213) 688-0460 to schedule a free consultation. We can advise you of your options under the law.