It can be frightening when one is accused of committing a crime, but things can feel a lot worse when authorities also believe the alleged crime was motivated by bias or hate.
California takes hate crimes very seriously. They exist in the penal code as their own misdemeanor offense (Penal Code, Section 422.6) when a victim is deprived of their civil rights and privileges outlined in the U.S. Constitution. A penalty enhancement can also apply if it’s proven that hate was a motivating factor for a separate misdemeanor or felony offense.
Hate Crimes & Protected Characteristics
If you had never heard of a hate crime before, you might think it has something to do with someone acting out of an intense dislike for someone else. That wouldn’t be an entirely inaccurate guess about what a hate crime is, but it misses something very important.
Hate crimes are defined by the perpetrator’s motivation to intimidate, threaten, oppress, or harm someone because they have or can be associated with one or more protected characteristics. You’ve probably heard about hate crimes committed against people because of their race or religion, but these are just two protected characteristics.
California Penal Code, Section 422.55 recognizes all of the following protected characteristics:
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
A hate crime can be committed against a person themselves or their property. What matters most is that the accused is believed to have been motivated to act because of someone’s real or perceived protected characteristics.
Association with a Protected Characteristic
A hate crime doesn’t require the alleged victim to actually have a protected characteristic. Instead, what matters is if the offender perceived them to have one, or if the victim was targeted because they were associated with another person or group of people with a protected characteristic.
Hate Crime Penalties in California
As previously mentioned, California takes hate crimes very seriously. Committing a hate crime that interferes with another person’s civil rights is a misdemeanor in California punishable by up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000. In lieu of jail time, judges can sentence those convicted of hate crimes with probation.
Penalties for certain misdemeanors and felonies can be enhanced if it’s proven that the alleged offender was motivated by their bias against a protected characteristic. A misdemeanor is normally not punished by more than a year in county jail. If hate was a motivating factor for the crime, however, the misdemeanor can be enhanced to a felony and punished by up to three years in prison.
When someone is already charged with a felony, hate crime penalty enhancement can add three additional years of prison on top of their sentence for the underlying conviction.
Legal Defenses for Hate Crime Charges
If someone is accused of a hate crime in California, there are three legal defenses available to them:
- They did not commit the underlying crime
- They were not motivated by bias or hatred
- They were engaged in protected free speech activities
What Do I Do If I’m Charged with a Hate Crime?
A hate crime charge is a serious criminal accusation that can damage your reputation and come with severe legal penalties. If you are being investigated or have already been arrested, you must seek experienced and competent legal counsel that can help you mitigate or eliminate responsibility for your charges.
We at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC can provide this kind of legal support for people in situations like yours. Our firm’s attorneys have more than 100 years of combined experience that we use to help people protect their rights when they are charged with a crime, such as a hate crime, in California.