What is a Hate Crime?

We hear a lot of news about hate crimes, which seemingly relate to every form of crime, from offensive graffiti all the way to murder. Many people are confused about exactly what hate crimes are and how they are treated in the criminal justice system.

Hate Crimes Defined

In its simplest form, a hate crime is an act that would otherwise constitute a crime with enhanced penalties if that crime was committed with the motive or intent to discriminate, or if the victim was selected because of a particular race or religion. So, someone who graffitis the side of a building is certainly committing a crime, but when that graffiti contains racial or religious insults, now that crime is being committed with the intent to discriminate against, or with malice towards, a particular group. The penalties for the underlying crime are then enhanced and additional charges may very likely result.

In certain instances, it is easy to tell when someone is committing a crime with the intent to discriminate. Again, using our example, you need only to read the graffiti to see the racial or religious insult. Additionally, any crime against a religious building like a church or temple or mosque will be deemed a hate crime.

In many cases, however, the intent is much harder to discern. In acts of violence, for example, an assault and battery that may be committed on someone of a given race or religion, the state may have a difficult time proving whether the defendant targeted the victim because of the victim’s race or religion. Generally, with the assault or battery, all that needs to be proven is the attack itself. But to elevate it to a hate crime, the state needs to prove the subjective intent of the perpetrator, which can be difficult.

The hate crime laws do provide some relief for prosecutors because a hate crime can be found when the victim perceives the crime as being motivated by discrimination. Of course a jury must believe that the victim’s perception is reasonable given the circumstances. But if they do, then the State is relieved of the burden of proving what the perpetrator was actually thinking.

Maryland Takes Steps to Strengthen Hate Crime Laws

Maryland has a hate crime hotline, where those who think they are victims of hate crimes, or who have observed hate crimes, can report what they know, sometimes anonymously.

There is also currently a proposal in the Maryland assembly to make crimes committed with the intent to target law enforcement officers hate crimes. Crimes against officers, even if the officers are not specifically targeted, already carry heightened penalties, but are not currently in the category of “hate crimes.” Many are against the measure, citing that most officers are not attacked as a result of their status as an officer. The bill has not passed the Assembly as of this publication.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime and face heightened penalties, or disagree with the charges against you and want an aggressive and experience criminal trial attorney to advocate for you, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.