Hate Crime

Matthew Shephard’s Parents Remind of Hate Crime Legislation (CA Penal Code 422.55, 422.6, 422.7 and 422.75)

When Matthew Shephard was brutally killed in 1998, his unintended sacrifice began a fight for the human rights of gays and lesbians across the nation.  His parents, however, continue to bring Matthew’s story to life through speaking out against hate crimes and speaking to law enforcement officials about protecting civil rights.   They spoke to approximately 60 different police officers who were in the midst of hate-crimes training at the Central California Intelligence Center.

There is a wide variety of crimes that could be considered to fall under the umbrella of  ‘hate crimes.’  Yet, with this type of legislation, a person’s intent often matters more than their actions.  Under California’s hate crime statutes (CA Penal Code 422.55, 422.6, 422.7 and 422.75), it is a crime to harass, threaten, or intentionally harm someone because of their race, ethnicity, disability, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  The distinction of ‘hate crime’ falls into 2 major categories:  A) interference with the civil rights of an individual in a protected category of persons and B) that the interference in question was purposive and driven by hatred.

Thus, there is such a thing as a ‘stand-alone’ hate crime, which is usually treated as a misdemeanor.  Penalties for a misdemeanor hate crime charge of this law include a maximum of 1 year in county jail, a $5,000 fine, and the possibility of long hours of community service.  However, there are also hate crime sentencing enhancements that may be added to the already existing penalties for a particular crime.  In other words, if an individual commits and is convicted of a misdemeanor and it can be proven that the misdemeanor in question was motivated by hatred for a member of a protected class of persons, then prosecutors could change that misdemeanor charge into a felony and a $10,000 fine plus up to 3 years in state prison could be the ultimate result.  However, if the crime in question was considered a felony before hate crime enhancements were considered, then an additional maximum of 3 years could be added to the existing sentence.

 

Legal Definition of Hate Crime (CA Penal Code 422.55, 422.6, 422.7, & 422.75)

In light of at least 2 recently publicized attacks, one on a Muni bus on a transgender couple and another on an African American man near the Civic Center, it seems timely and particularly relevant to discuss the difference between an actual hate crime and other types of attacks.  It takes more than an attack on a member of a protected class for any particular incident to be considered a true ‘hate crime.’  California law dictates (CA Penal Code  422.55, 422.6, 422.7, & 422.75) that a person’s intent in the commission of a crime can matter a great deal.

There are several different protected classes of persons covered by California statutes on hate crimes:  race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, gender, disability, and so on.  In order to be considered a true hate crime, the crime must involve some kind of bias or prejudice that results in a violation of another person’s civil rights, and was motivated by their membership in one particular protected class or another.  Put more plainly, committing a crime that is solely motivated by a person’s distaste or hatred for another person because they are of a certain ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc.  Additionally, it does not matter whether that person is actually of that race, ethnicity, etc. it only matters that you believed, or perceived, this to be the case.

Most California hate crimes end up being attached to another, foundational, crime.  For example, if there is a burglary during which racial slurs were used, then your potential sentence would be longer than with a simple burglary not involving a ‘hate crime.’  There are also ‘stand-alone’ hate crimes, different hate crime penalties for misdemeanors and for felonies.  The simple fact is that committing a hate crime will result in a much longer sentence than the foundational crime.  Still, simply because a person in a particular protected group was attacked, unless it is clear that hatred is the only motivation, does not make it a hate crime.