March 17, 2020
Hate Crimes In Pennsylvania: What You Should Know
As our nation faces a global pandemic, some individuals are experiencing adversity based on assumptions. Hate crimes have erupted in major cities as the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to sweep across the United States.
What is a hate crime?
According to the FBI, a hate crime is, “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.’”
Under the First Amendment of free speech, hate itself is not a crime.
In Pennsylvania, this includes the crime of ethnic intimidation. To be found guilty of ethnic intimidation, a person must commit a crime with, “malicious intention toward the race, color, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals.”
What are the penalties of hate crimes/ethnic intimidation?
Under the Pennsylvania code, the crime of ethnic intimidation is classified as a third-degree misdemeanor if the other offense is classified as a summary offense (like harassment, disorderly conduct, etc.).
However, if the other offense is not a summary offense, the penalty is one degree higher in the classification of the other offense. For example, if you are charged with a second-degree felony of aggravated assault, the ethnic intimidation component would make this be a first-degree felony charge.
What are possible defenses against a hate crime?
If you have been charged with a hate crime, there are certain defenses you may be able to use.
- You were in the process of committing one crime, and during which you called the victim a derogatory name, but racial intent did not perpetrate the crime.
- Though insulting or derogatory words were used, it did not create a reasonable fear of harm.
- The victim is unable to prove that you committed the crime because of their race, religion, national origin, etc.
However, it is important to know that not only everything you did or said during the crime can be used in the court, but your outside factors can also be used like:
- Membership in a hate group
- Possession of literature of symbols associated with bias
- Personal writings, graffiti or tattoos
- Use of slurs/hateful messaging (such as broad statements about a group being terrorist, carrying disease, etc.)
- The date of the crime if it coincides with a holiday, event, or anniversary
- A history of committing hate crimes
The challenge of hate crimes is that they are often the victim’s word against the defendants which is why you need a trusted criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with a hate crime in NEPA.
Being convicted of a hate crime is a serious offense and can greatly impact your penalty. Don’t handle it alone.
If you have been charged with a hate crime, you need a strong legal defense. Contact Mazzoni, Karam Petorak & Valvano today.
When the stakes are high, you need the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. If you are facing a hate crime charge in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wayne, or Pike counties, don’t wait another second. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano today.