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A hate crime, or bias crime, is typically referenced as an offense that involves targeted persecution (often physical, but also emotional or psychological) of an individual for their (perceived or real) membership in a particular religious, racial, ethnic, gender or LGBTQ group. Some states, also protect political affiliation under state-level hate crime or bias crime statutes.
An individual committing assault against a victim due to the victim being an observant Muslim, a religion for which the offender has demonstrated deep-seated animosity, would qualify as a hate crime for example.
A hate crime is an unlawful act motivated by bias based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. A “hate” offense is not in and of itself a crime, but the charge enhances the possible penalties. Once the prosecutor has proved that a defendant committed a crime and the offense was motivated by hate toward a specific group or characteristic, the severity of the punishment increases.
While hate crimes are federally mandated laws, three states — namely Wyoming, South Carolina and Arkansas — do not carry state-level hate crime or bias crime statutes.
At the federal level, hate crimes are generally classified as felonies given that there is a requisite harming, or serious attempt to do harm, to a victim. The punishment for a hate crime depends on the severity of the offense. If the assault results in the death of the victim, an attempt to kill the victim, aggravated sexual abuse of the victim or kidnapping — the maximum penalty can include life imprisonment. Otherwise, the maximum penalty is no more than 10 years in jail.
State level laws vary in the handling of hate crimes or bias crimes, with most jurisdictions allowing both misdemeanor and felony charges related to hate crimes. In some states, all hate crimes are considered to be felonies, while in others, hate crimes can either be classified as misdemeanors or as felony offenses.
The penalty for misdemeanor hate crime-related charges typically reaches a maximum of one year in county jail in addition to restitution or monetary fines, while those convicted of felony hate crime-related charges could face up to 10, 15 or even 20 years imprisonment, depending on the particulars of their offense.
A hate crime differs from other categories of crime in two particularly ways.
First, the majority of other crimes focus their requisites in the realm of individual rights, responsibilities and the relationship between the offender and the victim outside of most sociopolitical framing. Hate crimes, rely almost entirely on the necessity for the offender to have an ideological reason (based on a deeply rooted bias or hate for one or more of the victim’s identity or biological groups) to motivate their criminal actions.
Second, hate crime-related charges are typically sought as penalty enhancements rather than as stand-alone charges. It is rare to see hate crime charges alone, rather than with other offenses such as assault, attempted murder or murder, sexual abuse and battery. Hate crime-related charges allow prosecutors, in most jurisdictions, to seek escalated penalties for the alleged perpetrator in response to the severity and maliciousness of their offense(s).
If you are convicted of a hate crime, your punishment can be increased and you could face serious time in prison. Call a Chicago attorney skilled in the defense of hate crimes to ensure you receive the best representation and avoid being sentenced to an enhanced penalty.
If you are facing federal hate crime charges, it is strongly advised that you seek the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney at your earliest convenience.
Not only can retaining skilled and attentive legal counsel increase your odds of avoiding a conviction for hate crime-related charges, but also, in the event that taking your case to trial may prove disadvantageous, your lawyer will be best equipped to negotiate any potential plea deal on your behalf.
A conviction on charges related to hate or bias crimes is a serious matter, leaving you with a criminal record. For these reasons, among others, it is vitally important to retain adequate legal counsel.
Specialized legal help is available for most legal issues. Each case is unique; seeking legal help is a smart first step toward understanding your legal situation and seeking the best path toward resolution for your case. An experienced lawyer understands the local laws surrounding your case and what your best legal options might be. More importantly, there are certain situations and circumstances – such as being charged with a crime – where you should always seek experienced legal help.
Prepare for your consultation by writing down notes of your understanding of the case, jot down questions and concerns for the attorney, and gather your documents. Remember that you are trying to get a sense of whether the attorney has your trust and can help you address your legal issues. Questions should include how the attorney intends to resolve your issue, how many years he/she has been practicing law and specifically practicing in your area, as well as how many cases similar to yours the attorney has handled. It can also be helpful to broach the subject of fees so that you understand the likely cost and structure of your representation by a specific attorney and/or legal team.
Experience. Regardless of the type of legal matter you need help with, an experienced attorney will usually be able to get you better results.
Competence. Determine an attorney’s expertise by asking about their track record for the issue you need help with resolving.
Fit. There are plenty of good attorneys out there; make sure you find one you are comfortable working with.
Pro se – This Latin term refers to representing yourself in court instead of hiring professional legal counsel. Pro se representation can occur in either criminal or civil cases.
Statute – Refers to a law created by a legislative body. For example, the laws enacted by Congress are statutes.
Subject matter jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority to hear the claim based on the specific type of issue brought to the court. For example, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy filings, therefore it does not have the authority to render binding judgment over other types of cases, such as divorce.