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“Homelessness” is a Protected Class under Florida’s Hate Crime Legislation

When one thinks of “hate crime,” one usually thinks about an assault committed against a member of a vulnerable community; generally an offense related to a racial, gendered, ethnic, disability, or sexual orientation prejudice. Nationwide, any offense that is found to be a hate crime carries with it significantly harsher sentences for the offenders. “Hate crime” legislation in Florida, as well as Alaska, California, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, is now protecting a new class of persons: the homeless.

Florida has the Second Highest Rate for Targeted Attacks

Recently, Florida has been found to have the second highest rate (12 percent) of reported targeted attacks on the homeless community; California had the highest rate, with 30 percent of all attacks committed against the homeless population nationwide occurring in the state. The rate of attacks on the homeless population is still significantly high in Florida, even though the law reclassifying offenses against homeless persons as a hate crime was put into effect in 2010.

The Effect of Reclassification

The reclassification permits judges the discretion to increase, for example, a second degree felony to a first degree felony, which increases the maximum prison sentence from 15 years to 30. The reclassification, when it comes to sentencing, has made all the difference in the world. But, the figures, unfortunately, have not been dropping, due largely to the fact that these attacks generally go unreported.

Demographics of the Victim and Offender of Homeless Hate Crimes

Generally the victim demographic show men in their 40s, but 73 percent of the victims have been older than that. The offenders, however, were found to be men, who were not homeless, and are under the age of 20; the trend over the last few years is showing that the offenders are getting younger.

Florida’s Hate Crime Legislation

Under Florida law, a hate crime is defined as any offense where the commission was directly related to the offender’s prejudice based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, advanced age, or homeless status of the victim. To prove that the offense was in fact a hate crime, there needs to be evidence to prove that the defendant knew or perceived that the victim belonged to one of the protected classes and that the offense was committed because of his/her prejudice.

A person is found to be homeless if he or she:

  • does not have a regular or frequent nighttime residence; or
  • if he does have a regular or frequent nighttime residence:

○        it is operated or supervised by a private or public entity which provides temporary living residences; or

○        the place is not considered to be a space normally defined as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

The judge has the discretion when reviewing the facts of the case to determine whether the victim was in fact homeless as defined by the statute and/or the extent in which his/her homelessness (or perceived homelessness) was a motivating factor in the commission of the offense.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

There is a big distinction between being charged with a violent offense and being charged with a hate crime. The difference can be felt at sentencing where one crime may receive a maximum of 15 years and the other has a maximum sentence of 30 years. It is important that a defendant be protected from that distinction especially when the offense was not committed with prejudice. Kevin J. Kulik, an experienced criminal defense attorney, is someone you would want by your side, advocating on your behalf throughout this type of criminal proceeding. Contact Kevin J. Kulik for a free and confidential consultation about your case today; it can make the all the difference in the world.

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