Defending Against Hate Crimes Charges in California

California Penal Code 422.55 PC defines hate crimes in the state of California. The purpose of this article is to explain the state’s hate crime law and the penalties for conviction. If you have been charged with a hate crime in California, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

California Penal Code 422.55 PC Defines Hate Crimes in California

Under California Penal Code 422.55 PC, it is a hate crime to harm, threaten, or harass a person because of their disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.  Of course, it is already a crime to intentionally harm, threaten, or harass someone. In other words, you can already be charged and prosecuted for a crime even if hatred for disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation were not a motivating factor in the commission of the crime.  

What California Penal Code 422.55 PC does is impose more severe penalties on crimes in which hate for one of the enumerated categories is a motivating factor. Additionally, it is possible to commit a hate crime in California even if the victim does not actually belong to a class protected by 422.55 PC. It is enough if you merely believe the victim belongs to a protected class, and act accordingly. To make this distinction less abstract, it is helpful to consider an example.

If you attempt to rob a man because he is Muslim and scream anti-Muslim slurs while committing the robbery, you can still be prosecuted for a hate crime in California even it turns out that the man is not actually a Muslim. In other words, it is your motivation that counts – not the objective facts regarding a victim’s belonging in a protected class. To return to the legal language of PC 422.55, you can be convicted of a hate crime so long as the state’s prosecutor can prove that you were biased against the victim because of your perception of his or her belonging to a protected class, and that it was because of this bias that you were motivated to commit a crime against them. Implicit in this requirement is the burden of the prosecutor to prove that you committed the alleged crime. In other words, to even reach the question of hateful motivation, the prosecutor must first prove that you harmed, threatened, or harassed the victim in the first place.

Hate Crimes are Subject to Serious Penalties in the State of California

Penalties for a hate crime conviction in the state of California depend on both the nature of the underlying crime and the motivation for committing the crime. The more serious the crime, the more likely it will be prosecuted as a felony, and subject to significant penalties, such as fines, jail time, and community service. If you have been charged with a hate crime in the state of California, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.  An attorney will explain your legal rights and work to protect them.