Miami Hate Crime Attorney
The state of Florida does not recognize hate crimes as specific crimes on their own. Instead, Florida considers evidence of hate or prejudice against a protected class during the commission of a crime to be an aggravating factor, putting the crime into a more serious category. For example, if there is evidence of prejudice, a lesser misdemeanor may be reclassified as a more serious misdemeanor. Because of this, evidence of prejudice or hate can result in significantly harsher punishment for a relatively minor crime.
If you are charged with a crime and the prosecution is pursuing reclassification of the charges based on evidence of prejudice or hate, the expert criminal defense attorneys at Valiente Law can advise you of your rights. Being charged with any crime threatens your liberty, but the additional charges associated with a hate crime elevate the stakes. Rely on the guidance of Valiente Law to answer all your questions about criminal charges in Florida.
What is a Hate Crime?
A hate crime is a crime in which there is evidence that the underlying crime, such as assault or rape, was motivated by prejudice or dislike of certain groups of people. In Florida, a crime is elevated to a hate crime if during the commission of a crime an actor evidences prejudice based on race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age (over 65) of the victim.
Under Florida’s hate crime statute homeless status means lacking a permanent nighttime residence or having a nighttime residence in a shelter or other publicly administered facility.
How Does Evidence of Prejudice Impact Punishment?
Under Florida’s hate crime statute, if there is evidence of prejudice against the victim, then the crime is classified as the next more serious crime. For instance, a second-degree misdemeanor is reclassified as a first-degree misdemeanor; a first-degree misdemeanor is reclassified as a third-degree felony; and a third-degree felony is reclassified as a second-degree felony.
The classification of a crime is how the range of punishment is established. For a second- degree misdemeanor, punishment may be up to 60 days in jail. For a first degree misdemeanor, punishment may be up to one year in jail. For a third-degree felony, the maximum prison sentence jumps to five years. Similarly, a second-degree felony carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, while a first-degree felony carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
The impact of classifying a crime as a hate crime is that punishment may be greatly increased. In a case in which a crime is reclassified from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, the potential prison sentence jumps from a one-year maximum to a five-year maximum.
How is Evidence of Prejudice Established?
Evidence of prejudice based on race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim is difficult to prove because it requires showing what occurred in the accused’s mind. For crimes to be reclassified under Florida’s hate crime statute, the prosecution must first prove that the defendant “perceived, knew, or had reasonable grounds to know or perceive” that the victim was a member of a class protected by the statute (Florida Statute 775.085(3)).
In some cases, evidence of the defendant’s subjective knowledge may be shown through circumstances, such as the defendant’s statements or actions just prior to committing the crime. For example, calling the victim a racial slur or other disparaging name may serve as an admission the victim belonged to a protected group. In other cases, the defendant may have participated in a group or other activities that actively persecute certain groups, such as the KKK or a neo-Nazi group.
In the event that a person establishes he or she committed a crime reclassified as a hate crime out of coercion, intimidation, threat, or other fear of retaliation, that person has a civil cause of action against the party causing the coercion, intimidation, threat, or fear. An example might include a member of a hate group who fears retaliation for refusing to commit a crime.
How Can an Attorney Help?
Aside from representing someone accused of a hate crime for the underlying crime, an experienced attorney can contradict and question evidence tending to suggest the defendant acted out of prejudice. An experienced criminal attorney can assess the state prosecutor’s reasons for seeking the hate crime reclassification and determine whether the elements of a hate crime exist under the facts.
An attorney can represent a defendant at a proceeding to declare him or her a violent career criminal. There, the attorney can object to the state prosecutor’s evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and introduce evidence on behalf of the defendant. In certain cases, the criminal court has discretion in making a violent career criminal determination and an experienced attorney can point out when that discretion should be applied.
Contact a Miami Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are accused of a crime and the prosecution seeks to reclassify the crime under the hate crime statute, it is important that you seek legal representation. Failing to do so could result in substantially harsher punishment if you are found guilty. The attorneys at Valiente Law are experienced with all aspects of criminal law and can fight for your rights, assuring that you receive fair treatment under the law. Contact a qualified criminal defense attorney today to discuss your case.