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Hate Crime Charges in Cases Where the Victim is LGBTQ

Mar 23, 2018 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense

According to the United States Department of Justice, 931 hate crime incidents occurred in California in 2016. While most of these crimes were directed towards African-Americans, the second most likely target group was gay men, with 152 victims. The vulnerability of the LGBTQ community to hate crimes was highlighted by the brutal murder of a transgender woman in the streets of Fresno in 2015.

The California Penal Code (PC) includes enhanced penalties for people convicted of hate crimes. But prosecutors don’t always seek these harsher sentences. Many times, there is insufficient evidence to show that the victim’s belonging to a protected group motivated the crime. The suspected perpetrator of the 2015 Fresno murder, for example, will not be facing hate crime charges.

What Are California’s Hate Crime Laws?

In California, you may face criminal penalties if you commit a crime that was motivated by the victim’s protected characteristics, which include the following:

  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Nationality
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

The penalties for hate crimes vary on the type of conduct you are suspected of. Several California statutes address different forms of hate crimes:

  • Stand-alone hate crimes – PC Section 422.6 makes it illegal to destroy someone’s property or to interfere with the lawful exercise of their constitutional rights because of their protected characteristics. This offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, $5,000 in fines, and 400 hours of community service.
  • Enhanced penalties for certain misdemeanors – PC Section 422.7 gives prosecutors the option to charge you with a felony if you commit a misdemeanor offense while interfering with the victim’s rights, and in doing so, you cause an injury or more than $950 in property damage. As a felony, the offense may be punished by up to three years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
  • Vandalism as a hate crime – According to PC 594.3, vandalism that is directed at a particular religion, a place of worship, or a religious educational institution must be prosecuted as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
  • Added penalties for felonies – PC Section 422.75 calls for enhanced sentences when a felony is committed as a hate crime. The additional sentence may be two, three, or four years long.
  • Murder as a hate crime – When a person commits first-degree murder that also qualifies as a hate crime, the minimum sentence is life in prison without parole.

Not Every Crime Involving a Protected Person is a Hate Crime

It’s not always easy to prove that a hate crime has occurred. Just because a crime victim belongs to the LGBTQ community does not necessarily mean that the offense they will be prosecuted as a hate crime. The prosecutor will need evidence that shows that there is some connection between the victim’s protected characteristic(s) and the crime’s motive.

When charges were filed for the 2015 murder of transgender woman KC Haggard in Fresno, the defendant did not receive a hate crime enhancement. The available evidence did not show that the defendant killed Haggard because of her transgender status. In that case, the bulk of the evidence is CCTV footage showing the victim approaching the defendant’s car, and a few moments later, a knife reaching out of the car window and slashing her throat. Unless more evidence comes to light about the suspect’s motive, this incident will be treated as a simple murder.

Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help if You’re Facing Hate Crime Charges

Hate crime charges involve more than just enhanced penalties, they’re also a public denunciation of your character. If you get charged with a hate crime, you may feel like you have nowhere to turn. But a Fresno criminal defense attorney can help clear your name.

To learn more about how Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer can put our experience to work for you, contact us today at (559) 443-7442.

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