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“Blue Lives Matter”: Should Police Officers Be Included as a Protected Class under Florida’s Hate Crime Law

In the wake of the Dallas shootings of police officers during a demonstration, Florida lawmakers are reviewing their hate crime legislation and drafting proposals in hopes to expand hate crime legislation to include police officers and firefighters. The bills, known as “Blue Lives Matter”, will most likely be submitted for the 2017 Legislative session in January if the writers, Rep. Neil Combee and Rep. Dennis Baxley are re-elected for office.

The “Blue Lives Matter” Legislation

The legislation would reclassify any felony or misdemeanor against a police officer and/or firefighter into a more serious felony or misdemeanor due to the protected status of the individual. In Florida, any felony or misdemeanor is reclassified to a more serious felony or misdemeanor in the event that the offense occurs against someone who is a member of a protected class. Protected classes currently include race, ancestry, color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, homelessness status, or the advanced age of the victim. Hate crimes legislation does not require that the person actually be a member of the protected class.

Perception Is Equally as Important As the Victim Being an Actual Member of a Protected Class

If the offender perceives or had reason to believe that the victim was a member of the protected class, even if the victim is not actually a part of the class, then that is sufficient, upon clear and convincing evidence, that bias and prejudice motivated the crime. Therefore, the criminal defendant would receive a harsher sentence as a result of his/her prejudice. In other words, if a criminal defendant attacks someone that he/she thinks is gay or lesbian, for example, but the victim is, in fact, heterosexual, the criminal defendant may still be punished for the more serious crime due to the prejudice that motivated the crime.

Police Officers and Firefighters Protected on Offense-by-Offense Basis

In Florida’s legislation, there are specific instances where an offense will be reclassified to a more serious felony or misdemeanor when the victims are police officers and/or firefighters. This is generally due to the fact that police officers and firefighters will be more likely than the average citizen to put themselves in a risky and dangerous situation because of the fact that it is their job. They are trained to navigate in risky situations but their increased exposure to risk means that added protections are needed. For example, in assault and battery cases, if the victim is a law enforcement official, a firefighter, an emergency medical care provider, a public transit employee, and other officer of the state, then there are more serious consequences for any offense against them.

Is there a Necessity to Include Police/Firefighters into the Protected Class?

This is useful, but not every offense has a carve-out exception where police officers and firefighters are considered special victims. This is what the Blue Lives Matter initiative will hope to effect by including police and firefighters into the hate crimes law as a protected class. This is particularly important with the recent Dallas shootings where there is significant hatred focused on police officers and law enforcement due to the increased police shootings of innocent and unarmed black men and women.

The future of this legislation is uncertain, and whether or not it will make it through the House and Senate in 2017 will be dependent largely on current events, such as if there is an increased need to protect law enforcement, and on the political demographics of the Florida’s House and Senate after the elections.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Hate crimes are serious and can have harsher and stricter punishment if an offense is found to be motivated by prejudice. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a hate crime but believe that the offense was not motivated by prejudice, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can advocate on your behalf. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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