Florida Bill Seeks To Expand Scope & Penalties for Hate Crimes
A bill that’s been introduced in Florida’s legislature would increase criminal penalties for hate crimes, or all crimes “evidencing prejudice.” Specifically, any crimes like these committed against law enforcement officers or other emergency worker would turn what is otherwise a first-degree misdemeanor into a third-degree felony.
While tougher penalties are already in place to address hate crimes based on race, religion, sexual orientation, color, ancestry, national origin, advanced age, and/or homeless status, the proposal would also extend the protection to crimes based on actual or perceived sex, creed, employment in specific jobs such as “law enforcement officer” or “emergency service employee,” or any of the aforementioned classes or characteristics.
Current Status of Hate Crimes in Florida
The Florida Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines hate crime based on the motivation or mindset of the individual committing the crime; specifically, it covers a crime which is committed or one attempts to commit against someone or their property which constitutes an expression of hatred toward the victim because of their personal characteristics which (aside from this recent legislation) have historically included race/color, gender/gender identity, religion, ethnicity/ancestry/national origin, sexual orientation, advanced age, mental/physical disability, and/or homeless status.
The law also provides for the following penalties:
- A misdemeanor of the second degree reclassified to a misdemeanor of the first degree;
- A misdemeanor of the first degree reclassified to a felony of the third degree;
- A felony of the third degree reclassified to a felony of the second degree;
- A felony of the second degree reclassified to a felony of the first degree; and
- A felony of the first degree reclassified to a life felony.
Criminal Defense of Perceived Hate Crimes
If the proposed law passes once the new session starts in January, it would go into effect as of July 1, 2018.
Regardless, if you have been accused of committing a hate crime, it is crucial to your defense to establish that you did not know, perceive, or have reasonable grounds to know or perceive that the supposed victim was of a particular class. Thus even if, for example, individuals of two different races or ethnicity are involved in crimes against each other, if there was another motivating factor for the crime (for example, drug abuse), that crime should not be charged as a hate crime.
If you have been arrested for any crime—including a hate crime—in Florida, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. At the Baez Law Firm, we have successfully defended many misdemeanor and felony cases in Miami and Orlando, and have received national recognition for our superior legal services. If you live in Florida, contact our office today to find out how we can help you or a loved one in trouble.