How Are Hate Crimes Defined?
With the recent rise in hate crimes all over California, it is important to understand how these acts are defined and what the penalties are for committing such a crime. According to California Penal Code Section 422.55 a hate crime is an act committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived characteristics, such as their gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.
Speech alone can not constitute a hate crime unless it is accompanied by action. In order to convict a defendant of a hate crime, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- The defendant used force or threat of force to willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, or oppress another person in exercising his/her constitutional or civil rights.
- The defendant did so because of an actual or perceived characteristic of the victim listed in PC Section 422.55.
- The defendant intended to do so.
Because they instill fear in the community that has been targeted and send a message of intolerance, hate crimes can have a particularly devastating impact.
Penalties for Hate Crimes
In California, a defendant who is convicted of a hate crime is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalties for committing a hate crime include:
- Up to $5,000 in fines
- Up to 1 year in county jail
However, when a defendant commits a crime that is motivated by prohibited bias as opposed to a normal crime, he faces additional penalties. Under PC Section 422.75, if the defendant commits a crime which is then also found to be a hate crime, he can be charged with a felony that carries an additional 3 years in state prison.
How Do Prosecutors Prove Hate Crimes?
Despite the recent rise in hate crimes, they are still underreported and challenging to prosecute. This is due to the fact that it can be difficult to establish that there was prejudice against a protected class when a defendant vehemently denies it. For instance, a crime against an Asian woman implicates both race and gender, yet it may be hard to demonstrate this in the face of someone who asserts that the attack was merely random. For prosecutors, hate crimes bring an additional burden of proving that bias was present and motivated the crime. A prosecutor may decide to pursue the case as a non-hate crime if he can already charge the defendant with assault or murder since it will have a higher chance of success.
Although hate crimes are hard to prove, it is not impossible. Prosecutors look at a variety of bias indicators to decide whether or not a crime was committed due to a prohibited bias. These indicators include:
- Defendant’s participation or membership in terrorist or hate groups
- Defendant’s history of committing hate crimes
- Defendant’s comments or gestures before, during, or after the crime
- Defendant’s property such as writings, literature, or symbols that show bias
- Markings or graffiti at the crime scene
- Date of the incident and whether it coincides with a religious or ethnic holiday
The prosecutor can use all of these factors to convince the judge or jury that the defendant acted with prohibited bias.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today
If you have any questions about hate crimes, or if you have been wrongly accused of committing a hate crime, contact Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys can answer any questions you may have and guide you through the legal process. We have helped thousands of clients clear their names and restore their reputations after false accusations, and we have the skills and resources to help you as well. You can place your trust in us.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.