If police recently arrested you and charged you with a crime, you may have been shocked and confused when you learned that authorities intend to prosecute the offense as a hate crime. Calling it a hate crime gives prosecutors the option of leveling much more severe penalties against you. If a court convicts you, not only will you face the penalties for the original offense, but even harsher consequences for the hate crime.
The crux of a hate crime is your intentions. In fact, your motivation for committing the crime is essentially the definition of a hate crime. In order to effectively move forward with your defense, it is wise to obtain as much information as you can about hate crimes in New Jersey and your rights throughout the criminal proceedings.
What is a hate crime?
A hate crime is any illegal action you commit motivated by a personal bias against a certain or protected class. In other words, if police accuse you of assaulting someone, you may face criminal charges. However, if witnesses report that you targeted the alleged victim because of his or her sexual orientation, religion, race or other identifying aspect, authorities may decide to charge the assault as a hate crime. Some important details about hate crimes include the following:
- The alleged victim does not actually have to belong to the protected class as long as prosecutors can prove that you thought or assumed he or she belonged to the protected class.
- Hate crimes may include vandalism of religious property.
- Hateful speech directed at a protected class is not a crime unless it includes threats or incites violence.
- Terrorism may be a hate crime if the perpetrator acts out of bias against a particular group of people.
- It is not always easy for prosecutors to prove that a crime had a specific bias at the root of its motivation.
Because hate crimes tend to create fear among entire populations of people, many states zealously prosecute offenses that may have elements of a hate crime. This means a conviction could result in severe sentence enhancements. Understanding the nature of hate crimes and the reason for prosecuting them may help you prepare your defense. However, because the consequences of a conviction have the potential to radically alter your life, you would be wise to include skilled legal representation in your defense strategy.