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Hate Crime Laws in California

Posted in California Law,Criminal Defense on April 28, 2021

When a crime is committed against a person based on their race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, this can be classified as a hate crime. In California, hate crimes are taken seriously, and any person alleged to have committed a hate crime could face prosecution for a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

Here, we want to discuss how the law in California defines a hate crime, specifically how it differentiates a hate crime from other types of similar crimes. We will also cover the possible penalties a person could face if convicted of a hate crime as well as the elements needed for a conviction.

What Does the Law Consider a Hate Crime?

Hate crimes are criminal actions against any individual or group of people based on their protected status. This can include criminal actions against a person based on their:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability

Freedom of speech is protected under the US Constitution, and individuals are generally free to think whatever they want about other groups of people. However, speech or actions that carry credible threats against a person or group of people based on the status is listed above is illegal.

There are various types of behaviors that could be categorized as hate crimes in California. This can include threats of force against individuals, attempts to intimidate or interrupt another person from exercising their rights, damaging another person’s property, desecrating religious symbols, displaying threatening signs on another person’s property, and more.

Possible Penalties for a Hate Crime Conviction

The state of California has separated hate crimes into misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the facts related to each particular situation. For example, disorderly actions outside of a place of worship intended to intimidate those inside would be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. However, directly vandalizing a house of worship based on religious bias would likely be prosecuted as a felony offense.

  • Under California law, hate crimes prosecuted as a misdemeanor are punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
  • If a person is facing a felony hate crime charge, then they will receive an enhanced penalty onto the sentence attached to the felony conviction. This enhancement could add an additional three years of prison time to a person’s sentence.

Elements Needed for a Conviction

Hate crimes can be standalone charges or enhancements under California law. In order for a person to be convicted with a hate crime or an enhancement, they must be found to be in violation of a law, and the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. The person used force to willfully interfere with someone else’s constitutional or civil rights,
  2. The person did so in whole or in part because of the other person’s actual or perceived gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability, and
  3. The person intended to interfere with the legally protected rights of the other person.

When we look at these three factors, it is important to point out that a person facing these charges must have intended to interfere with the victim’s legally protected rights. If there was no intent, then the hate crime charge or enhancement would not apply. Additionally, even if a person intended to commit a crime, a hate crime enhancement will only apply if the person who committed the crime did so because of the actual or perceived protected status of the victim. If you have been charged with a hate crime in California, contact our criminal lawyer in Riverside to discuss your case.