The Potential Consequences of a Hate Crime Charge
The recent events in South Carolina have sparked a nationwide debate about racism, violence and hatred. A young man reportedly walked into a church prayer service and fatally shot nine members of the congregation. According to an article in the New York Times, legal analysts expect that the United States Justice Department to file hate crime charges against the alleged shooter, who was already charged with nine counts of murder in South Carolina. The addition of hate crime charges will move the case into the jurisdiction of the federal courts and subject the defendant to possible incarceration in federal prison.
What is a Hate Crime
Hate crimes occur when the offender is motivated by some characteristic of the victim. The Florida law on hate crimes is extremely similar to the federal legislation. Under state law, it is a separate crime to commit a criminal act against someone based on:
- Their inclusion in a certain racial group;
- The color of their skin;
- The religion they choose to participate in or affiliate with;
- Their inclusion in a certain ethnic group
- Their ancestry or heritage;
- Their county of national origin; or
- Their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under federal law, it is considered a separate crime from the underlying offense. For example, in the case of the church shooting, the defender may face hate crime charges in addition to the murder charges he is already facing. If an individual punches another person because they are gay, the individual may face assault charges in addition to hate crime charges. Florida law utilizes hate crimes to enhance the underlying charge. If it is a class three felony, the prosecutor may increase the crime to a class two felony if state hate crime charges are filed. This is significant because enhancements can result in significantly harsher punishments.
Facing a Hate Crime Charge
When seeking a hate crime conviction, the prosecution must successfully prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all elements of the underlying crime are present. In addition to this requirement, the prosecution must also prove that some type of prejudice drove you to commit the crime. It is challenging to prove a person’s state of mind. To complete this task, the prosecutor may speak with your friends and family, investigate your interests, and review your group affiliations in an attempt to show a pattern of prejudicial behavior.
It is vitally important to secure an experienced lawyer who can successfully counter this information. Your lawyer may create reasonable doubt that prejudice was the intent behind the crime. He or she may present evidence that recklessness, monetary gain or retaliation was at the root of the offense. Your lawyer may alternatively try to create reasonable doubt that you completed the underlying offense.
If you are facing hate crime charges, our Miami lawyers can provide you with an aggressive and comprehensive defense. Reach out to the legal professionals at Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC today at (305) 330-3905 for a confidential and free consultation.