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.