According to California's hate crime legislation, it is illegal for someone to harm another because of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, perceived or actual disability, or color or ethnicity. The laws impose penalties for people who commit hate crimes and can even increase those penalties for significant offenses like vandalism while harboring hatred toward the alleged victim. The typical sentence for hate crimes is a maximum of one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

However, if you commit a felony and the prosecutor can show that it was a hate crime, you could be guilty of the felony and face an additional enhancement in punishment of three years in prison. If you face hate crime accusations in Los Angeles today, you must comprehend what one is and the legal repercussions. You can better grasp your alternatives, speed up the legal process, and fight for a good outcome with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Legal Definition of Hate Crime Under California Laws

Under PC 422.55, the term "hate crime" has legal significance. This statute defines a hate crime as an unlawful act you perform in part or in whole because of a victim's perceived or actual qualities, like their:

  • Gender.

  • Disability.

  • Race/ethnicity.

  • National origin or nationality.

  • Sexual orientation.

  • Religious beliefs.

  • Their associations with people with any of these perceived or actual characteristics.

Meaning of Perceived Characteristics

Even when, in the actual sense, the alleged victim does not possess any of the qualities mentioned above, perceived attributes are sufficient to constitute a hate crime under the law. Your allegations will stand if you think or feel the victim has the traits.

For example, damaging a neighbor's car because you believe they are homosexual. In that case, you only committed the offense because you dislike or oppose the sexual orientation of your neighbor. It happens that you were mistaken, and your neighbor is not gay. However, you are guilty of a hate crime because you victimized your neighbor because you believed they were gay and did so based on that belief.

Meaning of Actual Characteristics

When you commit a crime based on the victim's actual qualities, you act out of prejudice, malice, or because of the victim's true status as a victim with relation to their gender, ability, nationality, or sexual orientation. It implies that you only violated the law due to the victim's actual appearance or identity.

Committing a Crime Because of a Person's Characteristic

If your actions are largely or entirely motivated by the qualities of a victim, you are deemed to have committed an offense. For the judge to find that you committed the specified crime because of the victim's protected trait, the prosecution must establish the following elements:

  • Because the alleged victim possessed or you believed they had one or more of the protected qualities listed in this Act, you harbored a bias against them.

  • You were driven by such a predisposition to commit an offense.

An Underlying Offense

For the prosecutor to prosecute you with a hate crime, you must first have committed an underlying offense. You are not violating this law unless you commit a crime motivated by bias or hate against the alleged victim. This means that even if you express hatred or hostility toward someone because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, you cannot face hate crime charges unless you do something illegal to that person because of who they are or how you perceive them to be.

Understanding Hate Crime Laws Under PC 422.6

According to Penal Code 422.6, the prosecution must conclusively demonstrate the following components before the court can find you guilty of violating hate crime laws:

  • You knowingly interfered with another person's constitutional or civil rights.

  • You acted so in part or wholly due to the person's perceived or actual gender, disability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.

  • You meant to violate the person's legal rights somehow.

PC 422.6 prevents unjustified violence against harming anyone's physical integrity.

If found guilty of breaking this statute, you could face charges for a misdemeanor and receive the following penalties:

  • A maximum of one year in jail.

  • Court fines of not exceeding $5,000.

  • Participation in community service for at least 400 hours.

Penalty Enhancement for Hate Crimes Under PC 422.7

For those facing misdemeanor hate crime charges, PC 422.7 imposes additional punishments. For the judge to inflict further punishment on top of the sentence you receive for a misdemeanor conviction, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That you violated California law and were found guilty of a misdemeanor offense.

  • According to Penal Code 422.55, the crime committed fits the legal criteria of a hate crime.

  • You committed a hate crime to trample on the accused victim's legal rights.

  • You were currently capable of physically harming the victim when committing the offense, or

  • Property damage resulting from the misdemeanor was $950 or more, or

  • You have a prior hate crime conviction on your criminal record.

The district attorney can charge a crime under this statute as a felony or a misdemeanor. If you face accusations of a misdemeanor hate crime under this provision, your likely penalty is one year in jail if found guilty. However, if you face charges for a felony under this legislation, your probable sentence would be three years in prison.

Enhanced Penalties for Hate Crime Charges Under PC 422.75

If any of the following are true, this statute imposes additional punishments for a hate crime conviction:

  • That you committed a felony offense under California laws and are accountable are guilty.

  • The crime meets all the elements listed above for hate crimes.

If you violate Penal Code 422.55 by committing a felony offense motivated by bias, you will be susceptible to a sentence increase under this provision.

If the prosecutor can show that a felony crime you committed was motivated by hate, you could face an extra sentence of three years in state prison.

Defending Yourself Against Hate Crime Charges

Greater punishments apply upon conviction for a hate crime than for the original offense. For example, if you are guilty of the felony crime of vandalism, you could receive a prison sentence of three years. But if the prosecutor can prove that the destruction you committed was motivated by hatred, you will receive an additional prison sentence of three years. Your jail or prison sentence, court penalties, and the effects of a conviction on different facets of your life, like your profession and social life, all rise.

But if you work with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer, you can fight your charges and achieve a better result. Here are some tactics your lawyer can employ to persuade the court to drop or decrease your hate crime charges:

You Did Not Commit the Underlying Offense

Remember that an accusation of a hate crime will only hold up if you are already guilty of a felony or misdemeanor. Without the primary offense, you cannot face hate crime charges or be subject to further punishment under increased penalty laws. You can contest the underlying charge to have the prosecution drop your hate crime charges. Depending on the nature of the underlying charge, your defense team will employ different tactics to counter it.

For example, if you face charges of assault, your lawyer can persuade the judge that you acted in self-defense or in defending someone else from a dangerous situation. Your attorney can also show that you did not use more force than was necessary to protect the other person and/or yourself from your attacker. Even if the prosecutor has grounds to suspect that you assaulted the accused victim due to their personal traits, like religion, color, or gender, if you are not guilty of the assault allegation, you will not face charges for a hate crime.

Your Actions Were Not Motivated By Bias

If you commit a felony or misdemeanor motivated by bigotry due to the alleged victim's personal traits, like gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability, you can face charges for a hate crime. You will not face hate crime charges if you merely hurt someone else without having any bias. The jury will not find you guilty of a hate crime even though the prosecutor has evidence of your participation in the original crime if they cannot demonstrate that your actions were motivated by prejudice. As a result, you will only receive penalties for the primary offense.

Example: Caleb takes his new neighbor's abandoned car and drives off. He is yet to meet his new neighbor. But when he is apprehended, his new neighbor claims that Caleb took her car because she was a defenseless, frail woman. However, Caleb's defense attorney can persuade the judge that Caleb was unaware of the gender of the neighbor.

Contrary to what his neighbor claims, Caleb is not guilty of a hate crime. However, he will receive a sentence for stealing a neighbor's car.

You Were Merely Exercising your Right to Free Speech

You could use this defense to have the court throw out the charges against you if you face hate crime accusations for saying something the alleged victim viewed as hate speech. The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees citizens freedom of speech. You cannot face hate crime charges simply for stating your thoughts. But, you can only utilize this defense if you are only being held accountable for your words and not your actions. You could face criminal charges if you followed through on your threats.

Your Arrest is Illegal

If the police misbehaved throughout your arrest and the criminal investigation, you could employ this defense tactic. For example, you can cite illegal arrest to have the judge drop your charges if the police detained you without a warrant or reasonable suspicion or if they did not read you your Miranda rights.

In addition, if the police forced you to confess or tricked you into committing the crime, the court can drop your charges. The court will not allow any evidence they could have collected using tricks, force, or fraud.

If the police illegally searched for or took something from you, your arrest would also be unlawful. The legislation mandates that before inspecting someone's person or property, police officers must either acquire a search warrant or gain the owner's permission. Any evidence the officers could have obtained through an unauthorized search and seizure will not be admissible in court. The prosecutor will need more proof to prove their case as a result.

Hate Crime Victims Can Sue Under Ralph Act

In California, the Ralph Act allows victims of hate crimes and those who have received threats to sue their abusers. A hate crime victim who successfully sues their abusers can be awarded the following:

  • Compensatory damages for their economic and non-economic losses.

  • Punitive damages awarded by the court.

  • Compensation for their attorney's fees.

  • Civil penalties of up to $25,000.

However, for a hate crime victim to succeed in court, they must demonstrate the following:

  • The defendant attacked them violently or threatened to do so due to their perceived or actual characteristic.

  • The plaintiff's perceived or actual characteristic was the primary driving force behind the alleged defendant's acts.

  • They (the plaintiff) suffered physical injury as a result.

  • The defendant's action was the primary element that resulted in their physical damage.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Do you or someone you know in Los Angeles face prosecution for a hate crime? The first step is understanding California's hate crime statutes and how they apply to your case. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can assist you with both of those things. At the Law Office of Sara L. Caplan, we believe that you are entitled to a just resolution of your case. Because of this, we start the challenging legal process with you and continue until it is over. We can make the legal procedure more manageable for you, help you along the way with counsel, and employ the best defense tactics to win your case. To learn more about what we can do for you, call 310-550-5877.