In Pennsylvania and across the USA, hate crimes are grossly underreported. Despite this fact, hate crimes qualify as federal offenses, and almost every state has laws that specifically address these types of crimes. According to the Department of Justice, approximately 250,000 hate crimes were committed in America every year from 2004 to 2015. Its worth understanding more about how the definition of hate applies to the criminal justice system and why these crimes typically go underreported.
Defining hate crimes in America
These federal crimes are defined as a crime motivated by a bias, or hate. Under the legal context, hate is defined as bias against people or groups who possess specific characteristics defined under the law. Federal hate crime laws include offenses committed due to bias against a victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, color, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, gender or gender identity. Most state hate crime statutes focus on offenses targeting race, religion and color.
Hate crimes go underreported
To qualify as a hate crime, a criminal offense must have been committed. Typically these federal crimes involve violence against a person or property damage. Hate itself is not a crime, and hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, provided it does not incite violence. Determining whether an offense qualifies as a hate crime is typically subject to investigators’ discretion. Victims may be reluctant to report hate crimes in fear of retaliation, while officers may fear having their community stigmatized.
Fighting hate crimes in court
If you’ve been accused of committing a hate crime, contact a defense lawyer immediately. Legal counsel may be able to investigate the claims against you in search of exonerating evidence. A defense lawyer will likely have the experience to help guide you through the legal process and negotiate for reduced charges or sentencing, if possible.