A hate crime is a criminal act committed against a victim because he or she belongs to a specific, protected group. In addition to the actual victim, hate crimes may pose a threat to society at large. For example, if a Muslim man is attacked for his religious beliefs, it stands to reason that the attacker may pose a threat to other people of the Muslim faith. For this reason, among others, hate crimes carry especially severe penalties in MA and across the nation.
Although the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to free speech, it does not protect hate crimes. Hateful thoughts and speech are not the same as a hate crime. Posting anti-gay comments on your Facebook page may be protected as free speech, but threatening to kill a man because he’s gay is not free speech, it’s a crime.
You may be charged with a hate crime if you criminally target an individual because of his or her:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
And perception is what counts. If a straight man is beaten up because his attacker thinks he’s gay, the attacker can still be charged with a hate crime even though the victim does not belong to a protected class. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a hate crime.
Categories of Hate Crimes
Hate crimes can be committed against a person or group of people, or against an institution.
- Institutional target – prohibits the vandalism of protected institutions, such as churches, synagogues, or mosques.
- Protected group – prohibits threats or violence against individuals because of their membership in a protected group, such as religion, race, or gender.
This does not mean, however, that every crime committed against a person who belongs to a protected group is a hate crime. The crime must be committed because of the victim’s membership in that group. For example, if a Muslim man is beaten up and the attackers take his wallet, it may appear to be a hate crime at first glance. But if there is no evidence that the attackers had any knowledge of the victim’s religion, the robbery would not be a hate crime. As such, proving that a crime is a hate crime can be difficult.
To convict someone of a hate crime, the prosecution must prove that the crime was motivated by the victim’s race, religion, or membership in another protected class or group. To do so, the prosecution will look for evidence of the defendant’s use of racial or other slurs, or other biased or derogatory comments. These may be provided by witnesses, or through the gathering of text messages, emails, or social media posts. If convicted, federal hate crime legislation punishes violent hate crimes with 10 years to life imprisonment. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a hate crime. Continue reading