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Are Hate Crime Laws Effective?

Woman Faces Hate Crime Charges for Stomping on ‘Back the Blue’ Sign

A 19-year-old Utah woman was charged with a hate crime for defacing a “Back the Blue” sign in front of a police officer and “smirking in an intimidating manner” while doing so. The woman was originally pulled over for speeding, but officers involved in the incident allege that she was “extremely aggressive and violent” towards the officer, reportedly causing a “public disturbance and purposely [targeting] the officer in a very unpeaceful manner.”

This situation demonstrates the risks of including law enforcement officers in the list of protected categories under Utah’s hate crime laws. That’s right — Utah law lists police officers with race and gender in their hate crime laws’ protected categories.

As defenders of the accused, we believe this Utah woman does not deserve to face hate crime charges merely because she stomped on a pro-police flag. The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects free speech, and the woman was simply exercising his right. However, since Utah’s hate crime laws include police officers in the list of “protected persons,” then the targeted officer was able to allege that the incident should be prosecuted as a hate crime because the woman allegedly committed her actions in an “attempt to intimidate law enforcement.”

In an interview, the woman acknowledged that she stomped on the sign and threw it in the trash in front of the officer to show solidarity with her friend, who was pulled over for speeding. However, our lawyer does not believe these actions warrant hate crime charges.

If convicted of her criminal mischief charges, the woman would face almost one year in jail but her hate crime charges would enhance the penalty to a more serious misdemeanor.

Wisconsin Hate Crime Laws

While the state of Wisconsin does not protect police officers from hate crimes under its hate crime laws, it’s important to realize that state and federal authorities are vigilant for hate crime suspects and are going the distance to charge reported offenders. The US has seen a nationwide surge in hate crime incidents, prompting the FBI, Department of Justice, and other government entities to encourage the public to report hate crimes.

This means that if you commit an offense against a person and they perceive your actions to be motivated by a certain characteristic (actual or perceived), then you could face enhanced penalties in Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin State Statutes, a person commits a hate crime when they intentionally commit a crime against a person or property, either wholly or partially, because of their perception of the victim’s race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of the victim or the owner or occupant of the targeted property.

A hate crime is punishable with enhanced penalties in Wisconsin, meaning if the underlying offense is usually a misdemeanor other than a Class A misdemeanor, then the maximum fine will be $10,000 and the maximum jail sentence will be 1 year. If the crime is typically charged as a Class A misdemeanor, then the charge will be enhanced to a felony punishable by up to $10,000 fines and up to 2 years in prison. Lastly, if the underlying offense is typically a felony, then the maximum revised fine is $5,000 and the maximum term of imprisonment is 5 years.

Federal Hate Crime Laws

As we mentioned before, federal authorities are on high alert for hate crime suspects, especially with the alarming increase in these incidents. To get a better understanding of federal hate crime laws, take a look at some highlights below.

  • The 1968 federal hate crime statute made it a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because the person is engaging in a federally protected activity, such as public education and employment.
  • In 1968, the law also included provisions that prohibited the use or threat of using force to interfere with housing rights because of the victim’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin
  • In 1988, the federal hate crimes laws expanded to include protections on the basis of familial status and disability.
  • The 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act made it a crime to deface, damage, or destroy religious property or interfere with a person’s religious practice in situations affecting interstate commerce as well as prohibited these acts if they were committed because of the race, color, or ethnicity of the people associated with the religious property.
  • The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the federal definition of hate crimes to include federal protections against hate crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

As you can see, it is illegal to commit a crime against a person or their property because of an actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, disability, religion, gender, familial status, and more. If a judge and jury determine that your alleged crime was motivated by the factors described above, you could face enhanced penalties for the underlying offense.

Hate Crime Statistics

Now that you have an idea of the seriousness of hate crimes, you should know just how often these offenses are reported. Keep in mind, however, that hate crimes often go unreported for various reasons, therefore, the 2019 FBI hate crime statistics below do not paint the whole picture.

  • 7,103 single-bias incidents involved 8,552 victims
  • 211 multiple-bias hate crime incidents involved 260 victims
  • Disability accounted for 2% of reported single-bias incidents
  • 57.6% of reported single-bias incidents were based on race, ethnicity, or ancestry
  • 20.1% of single-bias hate crimes were based on religion
  • 16.7% of reported single-bias incidents were committed based on sexual orientation
  • Gender identity accounted for 2.7% of reported single-bias hate crime incidents
  • Gender represented less than 1% of single-bias hate crime incidents
  • Out of the 8,552 hate crime offenses that were reported, 64.4% were crimes against persons, 32.8% were crimes against property, and 2.8% were crimes against society

Accused of a Hate Crime? You’re Not Alone.

The Utah woman who is facing hate crimes charges is a prime example of how easy it is to get accused of this offense. Many crimes can be misconstrued to appear bias-motivated, but that is not the case in most criminal incidents. As a former prosecutor, our lawyer has the insights and tools needed to help you overcome your hate crime accusations and avoid enhanced penalties. We will go the distance to help protect your criminal record, freedom, and reputation.

Contact us online or at (414) 882-8382 to discuss your situation!