Hate crimes are serious, violent crimes with state and federal consequences. An accusation, however, is not a conviction. That said, society may have already placed blame. That's why these types of crimes are difficult – both a judge and jury can be influenced by emotion somtimes more so than the facts.
At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our hate crimes defense attorney based in Los Angeles knows what it takes to provide a solid defense against hate crime accusations. We will fight for you. Don't hesitate, call us at 888-666-8820 or fill out an online form today to schedule a free initial consultation.
What Constitutes a Hate Crime in California?
A hate crime is a crime motivated by a bias against the victim based on a protected characteristic, such as religion or race.
State Hate Crimes
Most hate crimes are prosecuted at the state and local levels. The majority of states have enacted hate crime legislation. The specific protected characteristics and penalties for hate crimes, however, vary to some degree among states.
Federal Hate Crimes
At a federal level, a hate crime occurs when someone willfully causes or attempts to cause bodily injury to a person because of their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.
Hate crimes or bias-motivated crimes are a federal offense in the following ways:
- 18 U.S.C. § 241 prohibits conspiracy to deprive another of federally-protected rights
- 18 U.S.C. § 242 prohibits willful deprivation of federally-protected rights under color of law
- 18 U.S.C. § 245 prohibits, among other things, willful injury to, intimidation of, or interference with an individual because of that person's race, color, religion, or national origin and because of that person's participation in certain enumerated protected activities
- 42 U.S.C. § 3631 prohibits, among other things, willful injury to, intimidation of, or interference with an individual because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin and because of that person's enjoyment of certain federally-protected housing rights
- 18 U.S.C. § 247 prohibits, among other things, intentionally damaging a religious real property because of the religious character of that property (assuming it affects interstate commerce), or because of the race, color, or ethnic characteristics of any individual associated with that religious property
- 18 U.S.C. § 249 prohibits willfully causing bodily injury to another because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability
If a person commits a federal offense and bias is believed to have been a motivation but the federal government chooses not to charge a hate crime, the latter can be relevant to sentencing. A judge can consider the hate crime when determining punishment upon a conviction of another crime.
California Hate Crimes and Underlying Offenses
Typically, hate crimes are not crimes of their own accord. They are more like an added element of another crime except that it is charged as a separate crime.
In California, different acts that can form the basis for a hate crime include the following offenses:
- Aggravated assault
- Disorderly conduct
- Criminal trespass
- Criminal property damage
Prosecutors must first prove that you committed the underlying crime, and that means proving all the elements of that crime. Then, the prosecutor must prove that the reason for the crime was one based on hate relating to the personal identity of the individual or group. The burden is high for the prosecutor to prove hate.
Examples of California Hate Crimes
At a state level, hate crimes are often charged in addition to an underlying offense. For example, someone who commits a religiously-motivated murder would be charged with murder as well as a hate crime.
Hate crimes can also be charged as stand-alone crimes. For example, at the federal level, it's illegal to harm or threaten harm against a person based on a protected characteristic. Damaging or destroying an institutional target, such as a church or mosque is another stand-alone hate crime.
Some examples based on real hate crimes cases include:
- Three Southern white men were convicted of the murder of a black man. This black man had been jogging through their neighborhood when the three white men stalked, confronted, and ultimately killed the black man. The three white men were convicted of a hate crime on the basis they targeted the black man because of his race.
- A man pleaded guilty to threatening a synagogue in Los Angeles after he left a voice message threatening to kill the congregants.
- Two defendants pleaded guilty to a hate crime for using Grindr, a dating app, to connect with, then kidnap, rob, and sexually assault gay men.
Both federal and state laws deal with hate crimes harshly. Your best defense is a strong defense.
Penalties for Hate Crimes in California
Under federal law, a hate crime is punishable by steep fines and/or up to ten years imprisonment. This increases to up to life imprisonment if the crime results in the death of the victim, or involves sexual abuse, kidnapping, or attempted murder.
Penalties for hate crimes at a state level vary depending on the relevant legislation. A sentence can include any of the following:
- Significant fines
- Community service, especially in the community targeted by the hate crime
- Loss of the right to own a gun or another weapon
- Loss of the right to vote
- Rehabilitation or education
- Probation or parole
Defenses Against Hate Crime Allegations in California
The prosecutor will fail if they cannot prove (1) that you committed the underlying offense beyond a reasonable doubt; or (2) that you committed the crime based on hate. Part of your defense strategy could involve possible defenses like innocence, mistaken identity, and insufficient evidence.
A defendant may simply claim that they didn't do what the prosecution alleges. This strategy involves creating doubt by using witnesses and other evidence.
Where a hate crime occurred but was committed by someone else other than the defendant, you might argue a case of mistaken identity. For example, during a lineup, you may have been incorrectly identified by the victim.
As in all criminal cases, the prosecution must prove each element of a hate crime beyond a reasonable doubt for a defendant to be convicted. If they fail to present enough evidence that the crime was racially motivated, a defendant may be acquitted.
You may be able to exclude evidence, too, if the police violated one of your constitutional rights. If a constitutional right was violated, any evidence discovered from that violation could be suppressed, and the prosecutor will have to build a case without it.
As a reminder, you have a constitutional right to be:
- protected against unlawful search and seizure
- informed of your Miranda Rights
- represented by competent legal counsel.
Contact a Hate Crimes Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
Being charged with a hate crime does not mean you are automatically guilty. At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our hate crimes defense lawyer fights hard for our clients and builds strong defense strategies to get the best outcome in your unique situation. Contact us today by using our online form or calling us at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation and to get started on your defense.