People commit crimes for many reasons, but most people are more sympathetic when an offense was performed out of desperation or a result of a personal conflict than due to biased, hateful beliefs. To help protect the civil rights of individuals, California has enacted hate crime laws, codified under Penal Codes 422.55, 422.6, 422.7, and 422.75 (PC), to punish those who victimize others based on prejudice. If you have been accused of a hate crime in San Diego, contact a defense lawyer as soon as possible.
What is a Hate Crime In California?
California’s hate crime laws, which include 422.55, 422.6, 422.7, and 422.75 (PC), were enacted to protect citizens from being victimized based on their actual or perceived:
- race or ethnicity —defined by the skin color and ancestry of an individual
- origin —including their citizenship and country of origin
- religion —which covers religious observances and practices, including agnosticism and atheism
- gender —both their born gender and gender identity
- sexual orientation —meaning whether someone identifies as asexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual
- disability —including both physical and mental handicaps
- association with a person or group in another protected category —this protects those who date individuals in one of the above categories and those who advocate on behalf of a protected group
While many people understand that these rules protect minorities from discriminatory acts of those in the majority, the law does not distinguish between one protected class or another. If a trans, black, Jewish lesbian in a wheelchair attacks a straight, cis, Christian white man based on any of these protected characteristics, she would be subject to hate crime charges just like the man would be if the situation were reversed.
How Prosecutors Prove Hate Crime Charges
It can be surprisingly hard to concretely state what a hate crime is under California law. The problem is that simply expressing a dislike of a protected class of people is considered free speech under the United States’ Constitution. So while calling someone the “N-word” may be reprehensible, it is not against the law.
Beyond that, just because someone has expressed prejudiced beliefs in the past and committed a crime against a person of a different religion, gender, nationality, etc., doesn’t automatically mean the offense itself was a hate crime. Instead, the motivation for the crime must be purely out of hate. For someone to be convicted of a hate crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant chose their victim based on a protected characteristic, which can be difficult in many cases, especially when you have a lawyer fighting on your behalf.
For example, if a white man carjacked a vehicle belonging to a black man, it would not be charged as a hate crime unless he indicated that his motivation was due to race. If he said something like, “these cars are too good for people like you,” he could easily be charged with a hate crime. On the other hand, if all evidence indicated that he simply chose a victim at random, then it would be unlikely that he could be charged with a hate crime, even if he was a known white supremist.
Never Speak to Police Without Your Lawyer Present
When you are arrested, always remember that anything you say can and will be used against you, so you should always invoke your right to speak to your San Diego hate crime attorney as soon as you are arrested. Failing to do so could result in your words being twisted against you later.
For example, if you are arrested for assaulting someone you don’t like for personal reasons and make an angry, off-handed comment about that person’s sexual orientation or race while you are under arrest, the police could use that as evidence that you targeted the victim based on a protected category.
Penalties for Hate Crimes in California
Allegations of hate crimes can result in serious penalties being added to even the most minor offenses. In most cases, hate crime charges are not stand-alone offenses but what are known as “enhancements” to the underlying crime. As such, if you have been found innocent of the original charge, you cannot be convicted of a hate crime filed under 422.7 (PC) or 422.75 (PC). These charges can be applied any time someone commits a crime based on a bias against someone protected under the state’s protected categories above.
Charges for 422.7 (PC) are filed against those accused of an underlying misdemeanor offense and may result in the crime being filed as a felony. Penalties for these crimes are punishable by either 1 year in jail or, if the offense is charged as a felony, up to 3 years in prison.
When the underlying offense was a felony, enhancements will be filed under 422.75 (PC). Those convicted of this charge will have an additional 1-3 years added to their prison sentence, but if the crime was committed with another person, another year may be added to their sentence as well.
Unlike other hate crimes, California Penal Code 422.6 (PC) is a stand-alone crime. However, these charges only apply in cases where someone has willingly harmed a person or their property, or intimidated, interfered with, or threatened someone to prevent them from exercising their legal and constitutional rights. In other words, if someone blocks another person from using the restroom, entering a sporting event, or otherwise exercising their rights and this action was done because of a prejudice against a protected class of people, this can be considered a violation of 422.6 (PC). This offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $5,000.
Aside from prison and fines, a hate crime conviction will result in an individual losing their right to possess a firearm for the next 10 years. This weapons ban isn’t something to be ignored, as a violation of the restriction is a felony and will result in a lifetime ban on firearm ownership.
Defenses Against Hate Crimes
Defense for hate crime charges vary based on which charge you have been accused of. All charges can be fought by arguing the defendant did not act based on a bias against a protected group of people, whether that means the act never occurred or that the victim was not targeted based on their identity. Similarly, San Diego defense lawyers often attempt to negotiate a plea bargain to ensure their client will not face hate crime charges if they agree to plead guilty to another offense.
For charges related to 422.7 or 422.75 (PC), a lawyer may sometimes focus on fighting the underlying charge because these enhancements cannot be applied without another charge. On the other hand, in cases involving charges related to 422.6 (PC), San Diego defense attorneys often argue that the alleged hate crime did not prevent the victim from exercising their legal or constitutional rights.
If you have been accused of any type of crime and believe the police or prosecutor may try to argue that you targeted the victim based on some type of protected characteristics, such as race or sex, call San Diego lawyer Peter M. Liss immediately. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation.