What Makes a Hate Crime a Hate Crime?

Virginia hate crime laws protect people from being intentionally hurt on the basis of race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin. Federal laws provide similar protections.

Hate Crime SignHate crime convictions not only bring enhanced sentences, but they may also make the news and cause significant suffering for a wrongfully accused defendant. However, a hate crime charge does not always result in a hate crime conviction. Before you are convicted of a hate crime, the government must prove that you broke the law beyond a reasonable doubt.

Virginia Hate Crime Laws

Virginia Code § 52-8.5 defines a hate crime as:

  • A criminal act committed against a person or a person's property with the specific intent of instilling fear or intimidation in the individual because of race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin or that is committed for the purpose of restraining that person from exercising his rights under the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth or the United States.
     
  • An illegal act directed against any persons or their property because of those persons' race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin.
     
  • All other incidents, as determined by law-enforcement authorities, intended to intimidate or harass any individual or group because of race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin.

If the government can prove that you acted with intent to instill fear, intimidate, harass, or commit an illegal act because of race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin, then the penalty for the crime you committed may be enhanced.

For example, a person who commits a simple assault may be found guilty of committing a Class 1 misdemeanor and face a potential sentence of up to one year in jail, a fine of $2,500, or both jail time and a fine. However, if the person intentionally committed the assault against a specific person due to their race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or national origin, then the person is guilty of a Class 6 felony. The sentence for a Class 6 felony conviction includes a term of imprisonment not less than one year nor more than five years, or, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500.

United States Hate Crime Laws

Federal law also prohibits hate crimes. Some of the federal hate crime laws include the:

  • Shepard Byrd Act. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009. The Shepard Byrd Act built on the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and made it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury, or attempt to cause injury with a dangerous weapon, because of someone's actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin. Additionally, the law makes it a federal crime to commit a crime because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person, but only if the crime affects interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdictions.
     
  • Criminal Interference With the Right to Fair Housing. According to 42 U.S.C. § 3631, it is a crime to act by force or threat of force to willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, or attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with someone's housing rights because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.
     
  • Damage to Religious Property, Church Arson Prevention Act. 18 U.S.C. § 247 makes it illegal to intentionally deface, damage, or destroy religious property because of the property's religious nature, where the crime affects interstate or foreign commerce, or because of the race, color, or ethnicity of the people associated with the property.  Additionally, the law makes it a crime to intentionally obstruct any person's free exercise of religion by force or threat of force.
     
  • Violent Interference With Federally Protected Rights. 18 U.S.C. § 245 makes it a hate crime to use force, or threaten to use force, to willfully interfere with anyone's federally protected activity because of that person's race, color, religion, or national origin. Federally protected activities include things like public education, employment, jury service, and travel.
     
  • Conspiracy Against Rights. 18 U.S.C. § 241 prohibits two or more persons from conspiring to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege provided by the Constitution or United States law.

Defend Yourself Against Hate Crime Charges

In most cases, the government needs to prove that you intended to commit a crime because of a person's protected class. It's not enough for the government to prove that the alleged victim was part of a protected class. Instead, the government needs to prove that you acted because of the person's race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

You face serious criminal charges, and you deserve a serious defense. Contact our experienced Fairfax criminal defense attorneys today for an initial consultation about your rights and potential defense.