According to a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there has been a 17-percent increase of hate crimes in the United States in 2017, which is the third year in a row of an evident rise. Last year, over 7,100 hate crimes were reported last year.
A hate crime is defined by federal law as a criminal offense committed against another individual or group due to their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Common examples of hate crimes include intimidation, vandalism, arson, robbery, simple and aggravated assault, sexual assault, and homicide.
The district attorney must prove the following three factors to charge an individual with a hate crime:
- The defendant purposefully injured, intimidated, or interfered with the victim’s lawful rights and privileges
- The defendant committed the offense because of the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
- The defendant had the intent to commit the crime
Penalties for Hate Crimes in Wisconsin
When a criminal offense is considered a hate crime in Wisconsin, the element of hate significantly increases the penalties upon conviction, instead of being charged as a separate offense. For example, if you were charged with a hate crime that is typically a Class A misdemeanor, it will become a felony offense, resulting in a long prison sentence rather than jail time. If a hate crime is originally a felony, you may serve an additional five years in prison and pay increased fines.
Legal Defenses to Hate Crimes
There are many occasions where people are wrongly accused of hate crimes. There is typically a rush of judgment because of the differences between the individuals involved.
It is not uncommon for the prosecution to attempt to make the charges and penalties more serious by arguing the defendant committed an ordinary crime based on bias. That is why having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side can help you get your case dismissed or reduced the charges you face.
The following are the most common defenses to hate crimes:
- You are innocent – Whether you have been falsely accused or defending yourself against harm, not being criminal liable results in your case being thrown out.
- The alleged criminal offense was not motivated by bias – The prosecution must have evidence that your alleged criminal actions was motivated by hate. Just because there are differences between the defendant and the plaintiff, doesn’t automatically make the alleged crime a hate crime.
- Your conduct is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (i.e. free speech) – If your speech didn’t threaten violence against a specific individual or group and you weren’t able to carry out the threat, you cannot be criminally punished for your actions. Even if you insult someone else’s race or gender, as long as it doesn’t relate to a criminal or violent act.