Between 2013 and 2017, hate crimes increased 22 percent nationally. But in Washington, these incidents skyrocketed 78 percent.

Race accounted for 60 percent of these offenses. Most of the rest were either religion (21 percent) and sexual orientation (16 percent). Almost all of the hate crimes in Washington over that period were aggravated assaults. These incidents increased even more in Seattle. Only two other cities in the nation experienced higher increases. Observers speculate that many other hate crimes may go unreported, especially property crimes.

The Simon Wiesenthal center states that the use of social media platforms contributed significantly to the hate crime spike.

“It is interesting that ‘hate’ is not an element of a hate crime in Washington State,” opined Seattle criminal defense attorney Lennard A. Nahajski. “But the Evergreen State’s law is a bit more narrowly tailored than similar laws in other jurisdictions, which is probably why courts have not overturned it.”

Mr. Nahajski was referring to the recently-amended RCW 9A.36.080, which is the malicious harassment law. This provision applies to any physical violence, or physical property damage, related to the alleged victim’s:

  • Mental, physical, or sensory handicap,
  • Race,
  • Color,
  • Religion,
  • Ancestry,
  • National origin,
  • Gender, or
  • Sexual orientation.

Note that age is not on this list. “Sexual orientation” usually includes gender identity. This offense is a Class C felony, which could mean up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Additionally, the defendant must “maliciously and intentionally” commit the act. In other words, the defendant must target the individual because of a protected status. So, if a person robs women because he believes women are weak and cannot fight back, that’s probably not a hate crime in Washington State. But it may be a hate crime elsewhere.

The enhanced mental state makes these offenses difficult to prove in court. Essentially, prosecutors must either establish that the defendant belonged to a hate group or used racial or other slurs immediately before, during, or immediately after the incident.

If the evidence is weak, attorneys can often get charges reduced to ordinary assault, or perhaps aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is still a felony, but as far as jurors are concerned, this offense is not as bad. Additionally, attorneys can usually have all “hate crime” evidence excluded in an assault trial.