In a year characterized by social and political unrest and widespread public protests demanding racial justice, 2020 also saw a 31% surge in hate crimes in California, according to a report from the state attorney general’s office.
California residents organized some of the country’s largest Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer. The state also saw an increase in attacks on the Asian community following the emergence of COVID-19 in China.
What are hate crimes, and do you have legal options if you stand accused of committing one?
What Legally Constitutes a Hate Crime?
California Penal Code 422.55 defines a hate crime as a criminal act motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived characteristics, including:
- Gender identity
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
- Association with a person or group with one or more of these real or perceived characteristics
“Actual” vs. “Perceived” Hate Crimes
With hate crimes, the words “actual” and “perceived” take on highly specific definitions.
“Actual” means a person acts with ill will due to the victim’s status regarding disability, gender, nationality, etc. In other words, people commit hate incidents when they act in response to someone’s observable characteristics.
Under state law, “perceived” means that a person can commit a hate crime merely because they believe their target is part of a specific group. For example, imagine a case where a man assaults a victim he assumes is Muslim. In this case, his sole motivation is the target’s religious affiliation. However, even if it turns out the victim is actually Sikh, it’s still a hate crime because the offender perceived his target to be Muslim.
What Are the Consequences of Committing a Hate Crime?
Hate crimes have severe ramifications, including potential fines and jail time. Under California Penal Codes 422.7 and 422.75, the accused may be subject to additional sentencing enhancements if they commit a misdemeanor or felony that also proves to be a hate crime.
However, if you stand accused of a hate crime, you cannot be convicted unless the prosecution can prove a specific offense. Harboring ill will, prejudice or hatred toward specific characteristics such as race, nationality, gender identity or sexual orientation is not illegal unless you commit an unlawful act against a member of these groups.
What to Do If You Stand Accused of a Hate Crime
In some cases, it may be possible to successfully defend a hate crime. Potential defenses include that bias did not motivate your actions or that you were exercising your First Amendment right to free speech. You may also claim that you never committed an unlawful act.
When facing an accusation of any crime, having experienced legal representation is paramount. A knowledgeable attorney from the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can take your case and help you fight these charges in a court of law. We have successfully defended some of the highest-profile cases in Southern California over the past several decades. Contact us today to ensure you get the respect and attention you deserve.