Hate crimes are those that are motivated by the offender’s bias toward a person because they are a member of a protected group. They are considered to be criminal, and the District Attorney’s office normally prosecutes those committing these offenses and takes them very seriously. In some cases, the offender may have to pay restitution to the victim or their family.
The Massachusetts Civil Rights Act classifies hate crimes as having three elements. These are:
- Underlying criminal offense
- Offender’s intent
- Victim’s protected characteristic
Underlying criminal offense is when the offender committed assault on the victim or their property. When the offender intimidates the victim, this is called offender’s intent. In the case of victim’s protected characteristic, the offender targets a victim due to their race, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation gender identity, or other protected group.
The Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act is in place to protect all residents and visitors from bias-motivated action that interferes with their civil rights. They have a right to be free from such actions when in their home, public parks, school, or anywhere else they choose to be.
Everyone has a right to their identity, and attacking someone based on who they are is a violation of human and civil rights. The crime can be as simple as verbal language or violent assault.
Statistics of Massachusetts hate crimes
The statistics for hate crimes in Massachusetts are noteworthy. In 2015, there were 424 incidents of hate crimes reported by the FBI. The data breaks down into 198 incidents motivated by racial/ethnicity/ancestry, 81 each of religion and sexual orientation, and 45 of gender identity. As a proportion of population, that suggests that gender identity, or transgender is the most frequent target of hate crimes.
In 2015, there were 7,121 victims of hate crimes nationally. Of these, 4,482 were against people and 2,338 were against property.
Penalties for hate crimes in Massachusetts
An individual convicted of committing a hate crime of assault or battery on a victim, or property damage may receive a fine of up to $5,000 or jail time of up to 2 1/2 years or both. If battery results in injuries the fine will be up to $10,000 or jail time of up to 5 years or both. If this crime was committed using a weapon, the offender can receive state prison time for up to 10 years or a house of corrections for up to 2 1/2 years.
There is also an additional $100 added to the offender’s fines. This money is deposited into the Diversity Awareness Education Trust Fund. In some cases, this amount can be larger, depending on the crime. The offender must also complete a diversity awareness program. This must be completed before prison release or the end of probation.
Examples of hate crime offenses
There are many examples of hate crimes across the United States and in Massachusetts. Nationally, there have been a variety of property damage hate crimes related to white supremacy.
In Massachusetts since the election of Donald Trump, there have been many reports of threats and harassment to Muslims, immigrants and members of the LGBT community.
In Lexington, MA a man was arrested for a hate crime in a harassment related incident, when he was seen throwing banana peels on the property of an African American family.
Different types of hate crimes affect groups for a variety of reasons, including:
- A person with AIDS
- Male or female transgender
- Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim
- Gay, lesbian, or bisexual
Hate crimes can be against anyone a person considers different. There are hate crimes against those with disabilities, those of a different race, those of different religion and those who have different sexual orientation or gender identity.
Are hate crime laws a good idea? Are they necessary?
Hate crime specific laws and penalties are controversial in some circles. Just punish the offense, not the state of mind” is what some people believe who are against protections by civil rights.
But we punish intent all the time under the law. If we didn’t, there would be no different between premeditated murder, and a murder in the heat of the moment.
But intent does matter. If we as a society have decided that it is unacceptable to attack someone based on identity formed from a biased motivation, then extra punishment and legal protection is appropriate as a remedy and a deterrent.
What to do
If you feel you have been the victim of a hate crime in Massachusetts or if you know someone who has, the incident should be reported. If anyone was injured, medical treatment should be sought right away. There is a hotline in Massachusetts for hate crime reporting that will be kept confidential for your protection.
If you are accused of a hate crime, that doesn’t mean you are guilty. Incidents can be misinterpreted, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Call us for a criminal defense consultation for any criminal charge in Massachusetts.