California has a hate crimes law in effect that can affect a defendant’s sentence if the crime they committed was motivated by hate. Penal Code 422.55 PC imposes severe penalties for attacking, harassing, or threatening someone because of their gender, disability, race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.
Under California law, hate crimes have two major components. Penal Code 422.6 PC makes it illegal to interfere with someone else’s legal and civil rights or damage / destroy their property because of the person’s characteristics as outlined in the previous paragraph. Penal Code 422.7 PC and Penal Code 422.75 PC stipulate that anyone who commits a crime such as vandalism or assault while motivated by the victim’s possession of one of the above characteristics is guilty of a hate crime and may receive a harsher sentence.
It is important to note that perception is a key factor in a hate crime arrest. If a person yells anti-Jewish threats during an assault, they can be charged with a hate crime even if it turns out that the victim was not Jewish.
Violating Penal Code 422.6 PC by interfering with someone's rights or damaging or destroying their property because of a perceived bias will result in a misdemeanor charge.
The potential penalties include probation, up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, and / or up to 400 hours of community service.
There may also be enhanced penalties applied to misdemeanor hate crimes. If a person commits an act that legally meets the definition of a hate crime and they either injured or had the ability to injure the victim, caused property damage worth more than $950, and / or have previously been convicted of a hate crime, then the offense becomes a ‘wobbler’, meaning that it may be charged as a felony instead. In that instance, the penalties include felony probation, up to three years in prison, and / or a fine of up to $10,000.
If a person is charged with a felony that was motivated by bias, they may be sentenced to additional prison time. Use of a firearm during the commission of a hate crime can add three or four extra years to a sentence.
If a person commits a hate crime that falls under federal jurisdiction (i.e. it occurs on a military base, the state where it occurred does not have its own hate crime laws, or the State requests that the federal government assume jurisdiction), they are subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of $5,000 - $250,000, depending on the severity of the crime.
Assault, Kidnapping or attempt to kidnap, Aggravated sexual abuse, Murder, Attempted murder
Anyone arrested on a hate crime charge must retain a California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, as a conviction can have a significant impact on a person’s future, not the least of which is a harsher sentence.
A person may successfully defend themselves against a hate crime charge if they can prove that they were falsely accused, or their actions were not motivated by bias, or their conduct qualifies as free speech under the U.S. Constitution.
In November 2013 three California university students were accused of taunting a black roommate with racial slurs. They were charged with misdemeanor hate crime and battery and suspended from San Jose State University, where they were studying.