California’s Hate Crime Laws Are Leading to Harsher Sentencing

Politics and other current, newsworthy events have led to an increase in attention to possible affronts made because of one’s affiliation with a minority group. The data shows that, despite the current cultural sensitivity, the number of reported hate crimes and hate crime victims has dropped since 2017. Most protected classes shared the decrease in criminal activity aimed at their members, with only 3 reporting more hate crimes: the Hispanic/Latino community, the Jewish community, and the Muslim community.

Hate crime accusations usually accompany reports of threats, violence, or property destruction; they can be brought as the only accusation against someone, but often defendants find themselves accused of more than one offense when hate crimes come up. In these situations, hate crimes are used to ask for harsher penalties than an offense would typically incur. Sometimes these complaints are valid—but for others, a hate crime conviction infringes on the defendant’s right to free speech. The Law Office of Frances Prizzia staunchly defends your constitutional rights, no matter the circumstances.

Hate Crimes vs. Hate Incidents

Hate incidents are a category of behaviors protected under the First Amendment, though they may be motivated by hate. Legally, you are allowed to:

  • Insult people or call them names
  • Circulate materials (brochures, videos, etc.) that contain hate speech
  • Exhibit hateful messages on your property

The boundary between protected hate speech and unprotected hate crimes can be fuzzy, as speech that threatens others is not always allowed under the First Amendment. But what constitutes a threat? A Jewish person may interpret the display of a swastika on your front porch as a threat even if you personally do not intend to harm anyone.

California law also considers your ability to carry out a threat where one is assumed; if there is no reason for the subject to think you could follow through on what you are saying, your speech is still protected by the First Amendment. Small details like this demonstrate why you need a rigorous defense should you go to court for hate crimes.

Who Does California’s Hate Crime Law Protect?

Much like California employment law, our state’s civil rights law protects groups that have historically faced discrimination and oppression. A hate crime is defined as any threat or attack against someone due to their:

  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Gender (including gender identity and presentation)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Nationality
  • Race or ethnicity

The person need not be a member of the identity group so long as the attack is based on a perception of them as one. Property owned or assumed to be owned by someone in one of these categories is also protected by law.

An important part of hate crime law is that an offense relies on intent. Just because the victim (or the victim’s property) is affiliated with one of these groups does not mean any attack, threat, defacement, or destruction against them is a hate crime. This statute may only be invoked when the action is a direct result of the affiliation. In other words, the prosecution must be able to prove that harm was caused because of the victim’s protected status instead of other factors.

Hate Crime Convictions May Be Harsh

The lowest-tier punishment for a hate crime can result in a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a sentence of up to one year in county jail. The accused will also have to perform 400 hours of community service. Felony hate crimes can add up to 4 years to a state prison sentence when the defendant helped or worked with another person, or up to 3 years when the defendant committed the crime by themself. Hate crimes that result in a credible threat of violence or injury, or high levels of property damage, can lead to up to a year in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. Any subsequent hate crime violations after the first are also punishable at this level.

In America, you are guaranteed freedom of speech and a fair trial. The Law Office of Frances Prizzia can help you evaluate your situation and provide a strong defense in court. We are dedicated to protecting your Constitutional rights, especially when it comes to hot-button issues that may lead to aggressive prosecution

Call (888) 392-8114 or reach out online to schedule a free consult today.

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