In the overwhelming majority of states, hate crime statutes elevate the gravity of certain underlying offenses if the motivation for committing the crime is proven to be hate or other bias against members of a specific, protected group.

Separate offense defined by motivation

Washington defines its hate crime offense in RCW9A.36.080, which states in part that,  a “person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his or her perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap . . . [c]auses physical injury to the victim or another person . . . [c]auses physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or . . . [t]hreatens a specific person or group . . .”

This statute actually replaces laws for certain, basic offenses with the above statute if the motivation for the crime is established as bias against one or more members of a listed group. The penalty for malicious harassment is greater than the basic offense that does not involve bias as a motivation.

Elevation of offenses based on motivation

In other states, such as Illinois, hate crime laws do not replace the underlying offense statutes, but rather elevate them to hate crime status and provide for greater penalties if the bias motivation is established. Critics of the Illinois system claim that the laws fail to protect adequately because murder is not one of the underlying offenses, yet Illinois already defines murder as a “Class X felony,” which is the most heinous of offenses possible. The legal theory there is that the killing of a human being can be no worse whether the offender kills for sport, for monetary gain, or for bias-fueled hate.

It is noteworthy that such statutes establish that perception of the offender need not be accurate. In other words, the victim might not, in fact, be a member of the group that the offender wished to victimize, but so long as the crime was intended to victimize a member of given group, it will qualify as a hate crime.

Police Included

In Louisiana, groundbreaking legislation has passed that includes police and other first responders as a protected group. Drafted in response to a credible threat reflected by highly publicized public sentiment, this law has been met with heavy criticism. Opposing groups claim that parties protected by hate crime statutes should be limited to those defined by inherent, immutable characteristics. This contention ignores the fact that religion is included in every hate crime statute, yet religion is a characteristic changed by many people during a lifetime.

Get Legal Assistance     

If you or a loved one has been accused of a malicious harassment, you need competent legal representation. Do not allow an overzealous prosecution to improperly posit hearsay, circumstantial evidence, or public opinion as proof that your crime, if any, was motivated by hate for the characteristics of the victim. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at The Nahajski Firm, in Seattle, at (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation.