Hate Crimes Enhancements In Miami, FL Assault And Battery Case
Four men will face harsher penalties than would normally apply in an assault and battery case after they were accused of committing hate crimes in a South Beach, FL attack. According to a May 10, 2018 article in the Miami Herald, the attack occurred at the annual Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade. Witnesses and other evidence suggests that the suspects assaulted a gay couple after one of the victims accidentally bumped into a member of the group. The four accused individuals responded by calling the two men by anti-gay slurs before punching them in the face and head. One of the victims was knocked out by the blows.
After reviewing surveillance camera footage, prosecutors decided to charge the four suspects with aggravated battery committed with prejudice. The case demonstrates that what you do or say, in any language, can be used as proof to charge you with hate crime enhancements under Florida assault laws.
How the Florida Criminal Code Treats Hate Crimes
Lawmakers first addressed the issue of hate crimes when passing the first statute on the topic in 1989. They did not create a new set of offenses under the Criminal Code, but rather focused on providing stiffer penalties for a conviction when an offense was motivated by prejudice. Where the circumstances of a crime indicate potential bias on account of race, color, ethnicity, religion, age, or other factors, the offender faces enhanced penalties. Sexual orientation is included on the list of prejudices, giving prosecutors grounds to charge the four suspects with hate crimes.
Evidence Necessary to Prove Hate Crimes
A prosecuting attorney may pursue a hate crime as such, but the charges alone do not support a conviction. There must be evidence that the defendant’s motivation is prejudice, and not some other incentive. For instance, it may be tough to prove a hate crime where the offender’s primary objective is stealing money from a victim. In the South Beach attack, there is evidence that the four suspects were motivated by prejudice because of the name-calling. Additional evidence that may be sufficient to support a hate crime conviction includes:
- Statements before or after the incident;
- Affiliation with extremist groups;
- The type of offense;
- The nature of prior criminal arrests or convictions;
- Evident symbols of prejudice, such as tattoos; and,
- Other circumstances related to the criminal activity.
Sentencing for Hate Crime Convictions
The sentencing enhancement statute provides that the classification of an offense based upon bias increases in severity. Generally, the crime is boosted one notch, so that a Third or Second Degree crime becomes a Second or First Degree offense, respectively. Aggravated battery is normally a Second Degree Felony, carrying a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. In the case against the four defendants who attacked the gay couple, the classification of the offense as a hate crime moves it to a First Degree Felony. If prosecutors are successful in proving that the offense was motivated by prejudice, the defendants may face up to 30 years in prison.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have questions or want to know more about your rights when charged with a hate crime in Florida, please contact the Fort Lauderdale, FL office of Attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can set up an appointment to develop a strategy to defend the charges.