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Florida’s Hate Crimes Act

In the last few months, the limelight has shifted to focusing in on discrimination issues on various levels. With the brutal attack on two gay men in Philadelphia last year and within the last few days, the brutal murder of three Muslims who were allegedly killed for their religion, these types of differences have made quite an impact on the legal stage. More and more, states are evaluating their hate crime statutes and deciding whether to include LGBTQ as a protected class.

What are Hate Crimes?

Hate crimes are traditional crimes where the victims are targeted specifically because of some classification that they fit into, whether it is gender, race, national origin, or religion to name a few. Each state is able to decide the specific classifications of people that the would like to protect and when a traditional crime like arson, murder, vandalism, or assault (to name a few) are perpetrated because the person fit into a specific classification. The law takes the traditional crime and trumps up the punishment because of the added element of bias that is within the mix.

What are the Protected Classifications?

A hate crime may apply to a victim who was targeted for being part of a classification, but is in reality not a member of that class. It is enough that the perpetrator thought that the victim was.

Florida has its own protected classifications which are incorporated into its hate crime law.

In Florida, the following are protected classifications:

  • Color;
  • Ancestry;
  • Ethnicity;
  • Religion;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • National origin;
  • Homeless status;
  • Physical disability; and
  • Advanced age.

For further clarification, advanced age is for any victim that is 65 years age or older; and homeless status means that the victim, 1) lacked a regular and fixed nighttime residence or 2) has a fixed and regular nighttime residence that is a privately or publicly operated shelter.

Civil Damages are Possible for Coercion, Threats, or Harassment

In addition, a victim may be able to receive treble damages through a civil case if he/she can show that there was intimidation, harassment, or any type of threatening by the perpetrator because the victim is a member (or is perceived to be) of the protected classification.

The Data Says Hate Crimes Have Been Reduced by 60 Percent, Is that Really True?

In Florida, in a recent report, it was cited that hate crimes have diminished considerably in the last few years. Hate crimes have been found to be down 60 percent since 2002; in 2002, there was a report of over 300 cases of hate crimes, whereas in 2013, it was down to 124. Though many are optimistic about the statistical data, others are reporting that the data is misleading; many say that the data does not reflect the accurate number of hate crimes because Florida law enforcement are no longer receiving the same training. Without the training, Florida police are less likely to know when a hate crime has been committed, especially when the bias is more inconspicuous.

Federal Prosecution: The Second Bite of the Apple When the State Fails to Prosecute

Hate crime legislative protection is not only provided state-to-state. Federal hate crime legislation provides that if the state decides not to investigate or prosecute a defendant for a hate crime, the federal authorities may decide to pursue the case under federal legislation and more important, not violating the double jeopardy standard. (Double jeopardy, in simple terms, is the legal protection to defendants that the court may not continually prosecute the defendant for the same crime after being acquitted in the past; this does not apply to state and federal prosecution as they are separate.)

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Hate crime offenses are taken extremely serious, more so than traditional crimes. As a defendant, you could be looking at significant and trumped up charges if it was found that the crime was committed as a result of bias, and it is important to speak with an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik about hate crime legislation and the legal process. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.

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