Congress had been prosecuting racially-motivated crimes under Civil Rights laws since 1871. However, Matthew Shepard’s death galvanized the issue for the American public. Now the types of hate crimes includes gender, sexual orientation, people with disabilities, race, and religious affiliation among others. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been tasked with tracking modern day hate crimes in this broad context. According to FBI data, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017 across the country. In Texas, Austin had the most hate crime indictments at 18, followed by Dallas with 14. The increases are a troubling trend in some areas of Texas, and those accused would be wise to remain silent and speak to an attorney.
Can Bias Drive Heightened Charges?
The basic premise of hate crime laws is to deter people from harming others based on specific biases. Things such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and gender among others are the common motivations that prosecutors rely on the heighten a misdemeanor or felony to a hate crime that carries a harsher sentence.
During the Shepard murder trial, one of the assailant’s girlfriends reportedly told authorities that anti-gay sentiments drove him. It may seem bizarre in today’s culture, but she allegedly thought that would help the accused case. Apparently, she suffered the same anti-gay bias that drove the killing. Shepard’s killers were convicted and sentenced to double-life. The trial also prompted Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act that enhanced protections.
The point is that statements about bias toward another can lead law enforcement to level hate crime charges. Defendants are advised to check their personal biases because law enforcement will not share the same views.
Can Hates Crimes Carry a Harsh Sentence?
It’s important for those accused of a crime to know that bias against another can result in enhanced state and federal charges being brought. Federal charges can result from the use of physical violence to the destruction of property or simply conspiracy. Similarly, Texas has its own laws that can be brought to enhance charges based on such malice. The introduction of specific bias can result in accused people being additionally charged at the federal level and facing more stringent sentencing guidelines at the state level.
Many times, those charges are based on sometimes erroneous statements made by defendants. By making a single remark out of anger or frustration, you could face hate crime charges that you may not be otherwise. You have the right to remain silent and speak to an attorney.