A hate crime has less to do with the crime itself; the crime instead is primarily about a person's intent. While acts of violence, threats, or vandalism are always illegal, the penalty for these actions could be substantially higher if they are motivated by hatred of a protected class. If you are facing allegations of a hate crime, it is vital to seek legal counsel immediately.
There are a number of viable defenses available in a hate crime case. Some hate-crime allegations are based entirely on misunderstandings. Other incidents might be a crime, but they were motivated by something other than race or a different protected class. To discuss your options after an arrest for hate crimes in Los Angeles, contact attorney Vitaly Sigal right away.
California's Statutory Definition of a Hate Crime
Hate crimes in California are not governed by a single, overarching statute. Instead, there are three important sections of the California Penal Code that address crimes of bias or hate. Each statute applies to different behavior, with one acting as a stand-alone criminal statute and the other enhancing the penalties that come with a conviction. Understanding these statutes could help you build a strong defense in the case against you.
California Penal Code 422.6 & Stand Alone Hate Crimes
California Penal Code 422.6 governs what is known as “stand-alone” hate crimes. While the other sections of the Penal Code are designed to enhance penalties of different underlying crimes, this section constitutes a crime on its own.
A violation of this section of the Penal Code occurs when a person interferes or attempts to interfere with a person's constitutional rights due to their religion, race, or another protected class. The interference must use physical force or the threat of force. This crime is a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail and $5,000 in fines.
California Penal Code 422.7 & Hate Crimes as Misdemeanor Penalty Enhancement
California Penal Code 422.7 applies hate crime penalties to misdemeanors. This section of the Penal Code does not set out a unique criminal offense. Instead, it applies an additional penalty to an underlying crime.
This statute applies when a person is convicted of a California misdemeanor. Additionally, the prosecutor must also show that during the course of the crime, the alleged offender committed the crime in order to interfere with the constitutional rights of another person based on a protected class. The prosecutor must also demonstrate one of the following three elements:
- The crime against the person of another either includes the present ability to commit a violent injury or causes actual physical injury.
- The crime against property causes damage in excess of nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).
- The person charged with a crime under this section has been convicted previously of a hate crime.
If these elements are met, the underlying misdemeanor charge will be defined as a “wobbler.” In California, a wobbler is a criminal charge that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecuting attorney.
California Penal Code 422.75 & Hate Crimes as Felony Penalty Enhancement
California Penal Code 422.75 applies additional penalties to felony convictions that involve a hate crime. If the prosecutor can establish a hate crime occurred, the judge is empowered to hand down an additional one-, two-, or three-year sentence in addition to the sentence that comes with the underlying crime.
There are additional penalties that could apply under this section of the Penal Code as well. If two or more people engage in a hate crime, they could face an additional two to four years in state prison. These additional penalties could occur whether or not the defendant was primarily responsible for the crime or simply assisted in the act.
Defenses to Hate Crimes in California
Under any of these three statutes, the potential criminal penalties are substantial. Many prosecutors aggressively pursue these charges with some police forces operating divisions dedicated to hate crimes. While it may seem like the deck is stacked against you, a strong criminal defense could result in an acquittal or a reduction in your sentence. Some of the defenses available in a hate crime case are discussed briefly below.
Innocence of the Underlying Crime
The penalties that come under Sections 422.7 and 422.75 of the Penal Code require an underlying crime before enhanced penalties become available. If you can establish that you did not commit that crime, you will also not face the additional hate crime enhancements.
For example, if you are charged with arson along with a hate crime enhancement based on the alleged victim's race, you will face no criminal penalties if the State fails to prove battery. This is true of the penalties that come with both the hate crime enhancements and the underlying crime.
Free Speech Protection
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees you the freedom of speech. However, there are strict limitations on how this right might serve as a defense during a hate crime trial.
Freedom of speech gives you the right to say and feel whatever you want about protected classes including race, gender, or religion, with one important exception: if your speech includes a threat of violence against a person or group in a protected class and you had the means to carry out that threat, the First Amendment is no defense. The same is true if your conduct goes beyond mere speech. You are entitled to say what you want but acting on it can result in a conviction.
Lack of Bias
It is possible that you have committed the underlying crime, but you did so without any malice or bias regarding a protected class. While this defense will not absolve you of a conviction entirely, it could help you avoid hate crime enhancements. This is typically an issue of fact, meaning you must convince a judge or jury of your intentions at the time the crime occurred.
How a Los Angeles Hate Crime Defense Attorney Can Help
Both stand-alone hate crimes and sentence enhancements have the potential to cost you years of your life behind bars. To avoid the consequences of a conviction, let attorney Vitaly Sigal help you fight your hate crime charges. Contact the Sigal Law Group to schedule a free consultation.