What is a Hate Crime?

In Washington state and many other states in the Country, hate crimes are violent actions intended to hurt and intimidate someone based on a protected characteristic. These characteristics include: Race, Ethnicity, National origin, Religious beliefs, Sexual orientation, Disability, Gender and Familial status.

A crime involving force or threat of force becomes a civil rights violation if the perpetrator is motivated by intolerance and hate. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects hate speech, but only if the speech doesn’t interfere with someone else’s civil rights.

Someone convicted of a hate crime usually faces a sentencing enhancement compared to someone who committed the same actions without discriminatory animosity. This legal distinction also helps prosecutors establish motives for certain crimes.

If the intent of a crime is to hurt or intimidate someone primarily because of their affiliation with a certain ethnic, religious, or other identity, it is considered a hate crime and charged accordingly.

A person who commits violence against someone else for no particular reason will likely face criminal assault and battery charges. In contrast, someone who commits violence against a recent immigrant may be charged with a hate crime. That’s assuming it can be proven that the perpetrator acted out of intolerance for immigrants. The prosecution must be able to prove intent in order to prevail.

One way to think of hate crimes is that they are acts of terrorism against a particular community. Actions against even one individual are meant to express hatred of the larger community. Someone who sets fire to an African-American church, for example, is (most likely) committing a hate crime meant to terrorize the congregants and African-Americans in general. A law such as the Church Arson Prevention Act might apply in this instance.

Witnesses and victims can report hate crimes by contacting either the local police department or the local FBI field office. Local law enforcement and other law enforcement officials can investigate human rights violations.

Keep in mind that hate crimes are relatively difficult to prosecute. They require solid proof that the perpetrator acted with hateful intent. There must be clear evidence that the person harbored hateful intentions toward a certain segment of the population. This evidence may not be available. Victims of hate crimes often face an uphill battle in seeking justice.

If you plan on reporting a hate crime, make sure you write down as many details about the incident as possible. Include names of those involved and any other witnesses who could shed light on the incident. Offer this information to law enforcement agencies. If a crime is serious enough, it may be brought to the attention of your state’s attorney general.

Federal protections against hate crimes went into effect when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This law set the framework for hate crime prosecution by making it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, intimidate, or interfere with anyone… by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.” These protections were extended to certain activities such as: 1) School attendance 2) Patronization of a public facility such as a library 3) Applying for a job 4) Voting

There was pressure to toughen the federal law after two high-profile crimes that were seemingly motivated by hate couldn’t be successfully prosecuted. The crimes resulted in the deaths of James Byrd, Jr., an African-American, and Matthew Shepard, who was gay.

In October 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The original law was limited to the federally protected activities listed above. The new law extended hate crimes law to cover crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. It also expanded the covered activities.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So, it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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