Being accused of a hate crime is a terrible thing. Whether or not a person committed such a crime, in today’s atmosphere the allegation is likely to garner a great deal of news and social media attention, and public opinion often presumes a person guilty with little or no evidence. Unfortunately, hate crimes are on the rise in Maryland, with reports of such crime rising 40 percent between 2015 and 2016. If you have been accused of a hate crime, your first step is obtaining legal counsel. You need an experienced, aggressive criminal lawyer to help you fight such charges.
Federal and State Hate Crimes Law
The FBI considers a hate crime a “traditional” offense with a bias element. Such offenses include murder, vandalism or arson. The bias involves a “race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” The FBI is careful to the point that hate per se is not criminal, because freedom of speech and other civil liberties require consideration. When there are alleged criminal violations of federal civil rights statutes, the FBI is the lead investigative agency.
In Maryland, hate crimes are those allegedly committed against someone or a group because of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or homeless status. As of October 1, 2018, Maryland’s hate crime laws were expanded to include actions targeting groups rather than just individuals.
Maryland Hate Crimes Involve Additional Penalties
When hate is found as a motivation for a crime, Maryland law provides for extra sentencing in addition to that for the actual crime committed. If a hate crime resulted in death, the defendant might face up to an additional 20 years on their sentence and a fine of up to $20,000. A hate crime involving another type of felony may add 10 years to the judgment and a fine of up to $10,000. Conviction on a misdemeanor hate crime may add up to three years to the sentence and a fine of up to $5,000.
What is a Hate Crime?
Hate crimes run the gamut, from those that cause psychological anguish to the persons to whom it is directed to those causing physical harm or even death. For example, under ordinary circumstances, vandalism is a misdemeanor. If the vandalism involved spray painting a swastika on a synagogue or a person’s driveway, the incident is no longer just vandalism but also a hate crime.
In many cases, a simple act of vandalism is more straightforward to distinguish as a hate crime than a physical assault, because the evidence of bias is there. If one person assaults another or is accused of doing so, and the victim is a member of a different race, ethnicity, religion, etc., it may end up perceived as a hate crime although there is no actual evidence to that effect.
Allegations Ruin Lives
A hate crime allegation, let alone a conviction, can ruin a life. There are always two aspects to a hate crime, and that is the commission of the crime itself and its elevation to a hate crime. A criminal defense attorney defends the client not only against the hate crime allegation but also against whatever crime with which the person has been charged. Say a defendant is charged with assault, and the victim of the assault is gay. Much will depend on whether the alleged perpetrator used anti-gay slurs or whether the individual has a history of homophobia, such as posting such views on social media. Without such evidence, hate crime prosecution is difficult.
Contact a Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one has been charged or accused of a hate crime, you need the services of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. Contact our office for a free initial consultation. We will evaluate your case and advise you of your options going forward.