Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes

According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, hate crimes have been on the decline in recent years.  In essence, a hate crime is an escalation of certain crimes, such as assault, when the crime is based on “race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person” (NY Penal Law Article 485.05). A specific crime that may be part of a hate crime can involve either property or the physical well-being of a person. In New York State, reported hate crime incidents dropped by 9.6% between 2013 and 2014. Kings County (Brooklyn) faced the most incidents and arrests related to hate crimes in 2014 out of all New York City counties. Just over half of hate crime incidents reported in the state were motivated by a religious bias in 2014.

If someone has committed an offense as defined by New York State Law, such as assault, menacing, manslaughter, stalking, sexual abuse, arson or criminal trespass, and the act or acts were believed to be motivated by a bias listed above, then he or she may be facing a hate crime charge. The state may investigate and prosecute reported hate crime incidents. It is important to note that if you are found guilty of committing a hate crime, then your sentence may be more severe than if you had committed the underlying “specific offense” on its own and with no bias involved. Therefore, it is especially important to work with a qualified attorney if you are under investigation for a hate crime or if you have already been charged.

The federal government can also prosecute hate crimes. These crimes, like state crimes, are offenses motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of an individual in which the accused causes or attempts to cause “bodily injury” through the use or attempted use of “fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive device” (18 USC Section 249).

The federal government may prosecute on its own or along with state and local authorities depending on the exact circumstances of the incident. In general, the federal government will prosecute a hate crime if the crime, an element of the crime, or the victim or victims, have crossed state lines. More specifically, according to Congressional Findings, the federal government may prosecute a violent hate crime if “violence substantially affects interstate commerce [when]…

  1. “The movement of members of targeted groups is impeded, and members of such groups are forced to move across State lines to escape the incidence or risk of such violence.
  2. “Members of targeted groups are prevented from purchasing goods and services, obtaining or sustaining employment, or participating in other commercial activity.
  3. “Perpetrators cross State lines to commit such violence.
  4. “Channels, facilities, and instrumentalities of interstate commerce are used to facilitate the commission of such violence.
  5. “Such violence is committed using articles that have traveled in interstate commerce.”

What does it mean for a crime to involve the crossing of state lines and when will the federal government prosecute a hate crime? If someone flees a state in order to avoid violence or is impeded from doing so, then the crime has taken place in more than one state and may result in federal prosecution. In certain cases, if someone cannot obtain employment or cannot purchase goods and services because of a bias, then federal prosecutors may take on the case. If the perpetrator crosses a state line to commit such violence, then the federal government may prosecute the crime.