News outlets across the country have reported on instances of hate crimes, with the recent focus on anti-Asian hate crimes in the wake of the Coronavirus. According to a recent analysis completed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, hate crimes decreased in 2020 by 7% but those targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150%.

What Makes Something a Hate Crime?

With these crimes at the forefront of the news, there has been some conflicting information surrounding them and how they are treated in the eyes of the law. Additionally, there has been some confusion over whether exercising freedom of speech can be considered a hate crime. Today, we review what actions make something a hate crime.

What Are Hate Crimes?

Hate crimes are committed against an individual because of that individual’s perceived race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Here are some examples of hate crimes:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Criminal damage
  • Harassment
  • Offensive texts/calls/emails
  • Assault
  • Arson
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder

It should be noted that not every crime committed against a racial minority or other marginalized group is considered a hate crime.

Who Are the Targets of Hate Crimes?

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), out of over 8,000 hate crime victim reports in 2018:

  • 2,426 were targeted because of anti-black bias
  • 1,445 because of sexual orientation or gender identity bias
  • 1,038 because of anti-white bias
  • 920 because of anti-Jewish bias
  • 671 because of anti-Hispanic or anti-Latino bias
  • 236 because of anti-Muslim bias
  • 209 because of anti-American Indian or Alaska Native bias

In 2020, the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate received more than 2,800 reports of hate incidents directed at Asian Americans. The group set up its online self-reporting tool at the start of the pandemic. Most of the reports consisted of verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assault.

How Do You Convict an Individual of a Hate Crime?

To secure a conviction for a hate crime, the prosecutor must convince the judge that the defendant committed a criminal act with the intent to target that specific individual. It must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed this crime because of the victim’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. As such, it can be difficult to prove a hate crime as you need to show intent and how the crime was motivated by bias.

How Do You Prove Evidence of Bias?

Evidence of bias might include but is not limited to the following:

  • Use of biased slurs, words, or graffiti during or at the site of the crime
  • Defendant’s membership in a particular organization that shows hatred towards certain groups of people (such as an online group that is against homosexuality)
  • Any other hate crimes committed by the defendant
  • Date of the incident (could coincide with a significant holiday such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
  • Defendant’s writings, graffiti, tattoo, and/or possessions (including literature or clothing with symbols on them, such as Nazi memorabilia)

What Do You Do If You Are Charged with a Hate Crime?

Criminal hate crime penalties vary, but most are considered felonies, which are punishable by up to 1 year or more in prison. Under federal hate crime legislation, bias-motivated violence is punishable by 10 years to life in prison. Additionally, in some cases, these types of crimes are punishable by the death penalty.

If you are charged with a hate crime, you should consult with an experienced lawyer who can help you defend your case and protect your rights.

Are you facing charges for a violent crime in Orlando? Contact former prosecutor Carrie L. Rentz at 407-904-7376.