Hate crimes are a serious charge in any jurisdiction, but Florida has recently passed legislation to crack down on hate crimes, both enhancing penalties and broadening the definition of what constitutes a hate crime in our state.
Because of this, it is absolutely vital that you understand how hate crime charges work here. What constitutes a hate crime? What are the consequences? How can you defend against charges? Below, we’re going to provide an overview.
What Does It Mean to Commit a Hate Crime in Florida?
A hate crime is defined as a criminal act that is motivated by a specific characteristic of another individual, group, organization, or class of people. Frequently, hate crimes are motivated by factors such as religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability. Hate crimes may be used to make a statement against a certain group.
The most important factor in determining whether a criminal act constitutes a hate crime or not is the defendant’s motive. This is very much open to interpretation, so defendants are sometimes charged with hate crimes when their motive was not necessarily related to the victim’s identity. However, hate crimes pose a significant threat to society, so the possibility of a hate crime is always seriously considered by law enforcement officials and prosecution.
In particular, Florida takes hate crimes very seriously, and local law enforcement agencies maintain a strict zero tolerance policy for these types of offenses. Regardless of the severity of the specific criminal act, if it is deemed a hate crime it automatically becomes more serious in terms of consequences.
For example, a relatively minor criminal act such as vandalism becomes a much more serious charge if it is considered to be a hate crime. If you have been charged with a hate crime – or even just worry that you could be – it is incredibly important that you reach out to an aggressive Florida criminal lawyer immediately to make sure that your rights are protected.
Doing this in our state is now more important than ever.
Reclassification of Hate Crimes
Florida Statute S775.085 reclassified hate crimes in Florida to broaden the definition of a hate crime and to make penalties for hate crimes much more severe. This statute reclassifies the degree of misdemeanor or felony if the offense was based upon prejudice against race, color, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, disability, or age of the victim(s).
What this means for defendants is that they are now more likely to be charged with hate crimes, and that the penalties for hate crimes are more severe. If convicted of a hate crime, an offender can face severe penalties, including long-term imprisonment, high fines, long-term probation, and extensive community service or rehabilitation.
It is important that hate crimes be taken very seriously as they constitute a threat to the well-being of society as a whole, but oversensitivity can also cause a perpetrator’s motives to be misconstrued.
Evidence of Hate Crimes
The most important determinant of a hate crime is motive. In Florida hate crime investigations, law enforcement officials will look for the following pieces of evidence:
- Circumstances preceding the offense
- Affiliation of the defendant with extremist or other politically motivated groups
- Whether another apparent motive may exist
- The nature of the offense
- Any distinguishing characteristic of the victim(s)
- Any statements of the defendant made through social media, text messaging, or any other forms of communication
- Any verbal statements made by the defendant while committing the crime
- Use of prejudice-related symbols in commission of the crime
- Presence of tattoos of prejudice-related symbols on the defendant
How to Defend against Hate Crimes
At this point, you should already know the first step. If you think that you may be charged with a hate crime, immediately seek the counsel of an aggressive criminal defense attorney with a proven track record in hate crime cases.
In order to successfully prosecute a hate crime, the state must not only prove that you committed the crime, but also that the intent was motivated by prejudice. Specifically, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you chose the victim(s) based upon race, color, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, disability, or age.
A skilled Florida defense attorney may focus on showing that you had no intent to target a specific group of people, or that you didn’t commit the crime in the first place. This may mean providing evidence that you committed the offense due to another reason – money, for example. Or it could mean offering an alibi showing that you couldn’t have possibly been involved. Your particular defense strategy will depend on the specific circumstances of your case.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.