A hate crime is a type of crime committed on account of the victim’s membership or affiliation with a particular group, creed, or lifestyle. A typical example of this is when a person is assaulted on their race or sexual preference.

Hate crime laws are closely related to anti-discrimination laws. They may use comparable categories for specifying protected groups (such as age, race, religious background, sexual preference, etc.)

What Are Some Hate Crime Punishments?

Hate crimes regulations typically have the effect of enhancing or increasing penalties for criminal conduct. For example, a typical case for criminal property damage may result in a jail sentence of 6 months to one year. Yet, if the court figures that the conduct was intended to be a hate crime, the penalties may increase to more than one year. Criminal fines may also rise if the charges involve an aspect of a hate crime.

In this sense, hate crime punishments can be similar to aggravating factors that increase the criminal sentence. Hate crimes can occasionally result in civil lawsuits as well.

Many hate crime incidents result in felony charges. Examples include batteries that result in extreme bodily injury and hate crimes that involve sexual assault. Felony charges typically involve punishments such as prison sentences of greater than one year and advanced criminal fines.

What Is Criminal Sentencing, and How Does It Work?

If someone is convicted of a crime, they will then find out what the legal punishment for their behavior will be. This is known as the sentencing phase. It is separate from the part of the trial that determines guilt or innocence. Since there are many crimes, from minor infractions to aggravated felonies, there are also many different levels of potential criminal sentences.

Sentences can vary from fines and community service up to serious prison time and even capital punishment (such as the death penalty) in a few places. Every jurisdiction defines its criminal sentencing guidelines differently, and the potential sentence for a conviction may depend on where you are.

How Is a Criminal Sentence Decided?

Every state has its sentencing regulations, as does the federal justice system. These regulations are laid out as guidelines for the judge to reference after a person is found guilty of the offense and authorizes the judge to regard all sorts of mitigating and aggravating factors before passing a sentence.

The sentencing phase of a trial permits certain types of evidence that cannot be introduced in the guilt/innocence phase. One-time criminal history, for instance, cannot be introduced as evidence that the defendant is more likely to have committed this crime, as this creates an unjust bias against the accused.

A judge will weigh many other factors before deciding on a sentence. One-time criminal history is admissible evidence during the sentencing phase of a trial. A first-time offender is more likely to receive a lenient sentence than a repeat offender. The judge will also look at the convicted individual’s role in the offense. Were they the main actor or merely an accessory? Were they pressured or excessively influenced to take part in the offense?

And, of course, the offender’s mannerisms are a big part of deciding on a sentence. Violent, vengeful, and abusive behavior during the commission of the crime means that judges are less likely to be tolerant.

What Is an Aggravating Factor?

“To aggravate” means “to make worse, more severe, or more intense; to amplify unpleasantly.” Thus, in criminal law, an aggravating factor is any circumstance related to a charged crime that somehow exacerbates the crime. The term “aggravating factor” refers to several features involved in a criminal act, including the particular victim, the motivation behind the crime, or the device used to commit it that makes it worse.

Aggravating factors are sometimes referred to as “enhancement.” While the terminology might be different, the effect is the same. An enhanced crime deserves a more harsh punishment than a crime that is not enhanced.

For example, with a drug crime, aggravation of the crime comes about when the amount of the drug is more significant than a certain amount. In the case of a burglary, using a weapon, physical force, or threat of force makes the crime worse in the view of the law. This can worsen both the degree of the crime and the punishment.

An aggravating factor might mean a crime is charged as a felony instead of a misdemeanor in some states. Or, it might increase the level of a felony from a lesser offense to a more serious one. However, the basic result is that the punishment is more severe because of the aggravating factor.

Most people are acquainted with the degrees of the crime of murder. The presence of aggravating factors makes a homicide first-degree murder instead of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

While the factors that make a homicide first-degree murder as opposed to a lesser crime vary by state, a premeditated homicide is a factor in first-degree murder. Other aggravating factors would be that the murder occurred as part of a kidnapping. Or the defendant lay in wait or ambushed the victim. Or the victim was a police officer. Other cases may lead to a first-degree murder charge depending on the state’s law where the crime took place.

Why Are Aggravating Factors Important?

If a person is convicted of a crime, any related aggravating factors could raise the severity of the punishment. For instance, if a person is sentenced to a term in prison, the sentence length could be increased.

This would mean that the individual serves more years in prison than if there had not been aggravating factors. Or, if the defendant must pay a fine, the aggravating factors could significantly increase the fine amount.

What Are the Types of Hate Crime Legislation?

Several regulations have been enacted to criminalize hate crimes:

  • Regulations shield a targeted institution from vandalism or defacing a church, mosque, or religious building.
  • Laws that shield a person based on their specific membership of a group.
  • Laws protect a person based on their gender, sexual preference, race, or religion.

Are There Any Defenses to Hate Crime Charges?

Hate crime charges often need extensive amounts of evidence for validation. The court needs to confirm the defendant’s motivations for committing the crime. Therefore, if there is insufficient evidence to establish what the defendant’s reasons were, it may serve as a defense against the hate crime aspects of the charges. Nonetheless, the defendant may still be charged for the underlying offense (such as assault, etc.) and may receive the standard penalties.

Conventional defenses may also apply to the case, such as self-defense, involuntary intoxication, etc. These kinds of defenses may also apply to the underlying offense.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Hate Crime Charges?

Hate crime regulations can be different from place to place. Not all states deliver the same protections for other groups. You may want to employ a criminal defense lawyer if you need help with any criminal charge. Your attorney can advise you on the matter and represent you during the trial if needed.

They are knowledgeable in the criminal law of your state or the federal system if your case is a federal case. They can help you identify any possible aggravating factors in your case, how they might affect your case, and the best strategy for defending against them or countering their effect with mitigating factors.