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What is a Hate Crime

May 27, 2008
Our society is truly a melting pot of various people with different ideas, religions, cultures, races and many unique attributes that makes for a very dynamic society. Some believe that this very diversity is what makes the U.S. great, some believe the opposite. What is true is that this diversity creates many challenges and often great conflict. As result over time laws have been enacted to discourage unreasonable behaviors. California has enacted not only anti discrimination laws, but also hate crime laws. Other others states have done likewise.

During the last few years there has also been a very strong anti immigrant sentiment that often leads to not only discrimination against individuals because of their perceived ethnicity or nationality, but often the strong anti-immigrant sentiment leads to crimes perpetrated against these individuals. These types of crimes are considered to be of a greater magnitude and the punishment is much more severe than punishment for other crimes. Essentially a crime becomes more severe when the victim is a member of protected class. These types of crimes are classified as hate crimes.

A hate crime is defined as a criminal act that is committed because of the perpetrators perceived characteristics in the victim, when the perceived characteristics are from one of the following categories: (1) disability, (2) gender, (3) nationality, (4) race or ethnicity, (5) religion, (6) sexual orientation or association with any person or group that any one of these characteristics. It is also a hate crime when the act involves damaging property or using force or threats of violence to interfere with someone else's rights because of the perceived characteristics. It does not matter if the victim actually has the perceived characteristics or not. After 911 for example anyone that dressed in an unusual manner was a target for acts of violence. This included not only Arabs, but also Indians and just about anyone that wears religious attire commonly associated with Muslims. An act of violence perpetrated against someone that is a Muslim is not a hate crime in itself, but perpetrating a crime against a Muslim on the grounds that the person is a Muslim would be a hate crime.

Hate crimes include physical assault, attempted physical assault, and the threat of assault. Crimes motivated by the bias towards a member of the protected class are also considered hate crimes.

Threatening violence and including specific terms that identify the person as a member of the protected class would be sufficient to constitute a hate crime.

The civil penalty for hate crimes may be as much as $25,000 in addition to other personal injury remedies. The perpetrator of a hate crime can be jailed and fined. If the crime is a felony the judge has the discretion to add an additional 2 year sentence to the jail term. The court also has the power to order restitution for actual damages and losses including medical bills.

The victim does not have to let the acts escalate to the point of actual physical harm and has the right to request a restraining order, once there have been threats of injury or property damage that is motivated by the perpetrators bias. The victim does not have to be a member of the protected class for the crime to occur. The perpetrator only has to perceive that the victim is a member of the protected class. If the perpetrator yells slurs of homosexuality to the victim because the perpetrator perceives the victim to be homosexual, but in fact the victim is not homosexual the crime has taken place.
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