U.S. Department of Justice statistics shows a sharp increase in reported hate crimes based on race/ethnicity/ancestry from 2019 to 2020, going from 3,963 to 5,227 incidents. The increase is mirrored in Wisconsin.
We typically think of hate crimes as violent, but individuals are charged with the offense without causing physical harm. Crimes against property are the second-highest category of hate incidents in the state (crimes against persons is No. 1).
What Makes a Hate Crime
Wisconsin statute refers to hate crimes as “crimes against certain people or property.” An underlying crime is amplified based on the intention behind the crime’s commission.
WI Stat § 939.645 states the following causes the penalties for an underlying crime to be increased:
- Commits a crime under chapters 939 to 948.
- Intentionally selects the person against whom the crime is committed or selects the property that is damaged or otherwise affected because of the alleged offender's belief or perception regarding the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property
Whether the person's belief or perception is correct is irrelevant.
Some states include other classifications under their hate crime laws that Wisconsin does not include:
- Criminalizing interference with religious worship
- Crimes motivated by gender or gender identity
- Crimes motivated by political affiliation
- Crimes motivated by age
Increased Penalties for a Hate Crime
If the action is any of the lesser misdemeanors, the charge is upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to 1 year in jail. A Class A misdemeanor is elevated to a felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 2 years imprisonment. If the underlying crime is a felony, up to an additional $5,000 can be tacked onto the sentence as well as up to 5 more years in prison.
Under certain circumstances, alleged perpetrators of hate crimes can also face federal charges under federal laws and statutes. Congress passed the first Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law (as a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act) in 2009.
Shannon Pearson, the 48-year-old man accused of cutting his neighbor’s internet cable, is facing up to 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. According to the report, Pearson admitted to cutting the cable with scissors. He believed they were illegally in the U.S. because they did not speak English. He had told police officers he was distressed because “Mexicans” moved into the apartment above him.
Pearson’s charges include obstructing an officer, felony criminal damage to property, and a hate crime.
Hate crime laws in this state are penalty enhancers. To get a hate crimes conviction, the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was directly motivated by the victim’s national origin. In other jurisdictions, the hate crime law is a sentencing aggravator that a judge can use to impose a longer sentence during the penalty phase. The hate crime aspect does not have to be proven in the trial.
Legal Defense for Underlying Crimes & Hate Crime Enhancement
Attorney Cherella of the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella has broad-ranging experience in defending against misdemeanors, felonies, and federal charges. His insight comes from more than 20 years as an attorney, including 3 years spent as a prosecutor. Defense strategies can include undermining the validity of the underlying crime as well as weakening the state’s assertion that the motivation was based on a protected class.
When you need sharp and aggressive criminal defense, contact Attorney Cherella. Our firm is available 24/7 to fight for your rights. Call (414) 882-8382 for a phone, video, or in-person consultation.