A man is facing hate-crime charges after authorities allege he broke into and vandalized an Islamic center in North Palm Beach Florida. Authorities brought hate crime charges against the 27-year-old defendant alleging he targeted the Islamic Center of Palm Beach. The defendant was charged with burglary of a dwelling and damaging property at a religious center. Later the defendant was released on $1,500 bail. Under Florida law the addition of a hate crime charge means the defendant may face a possible life sentence if convicted of the alleged crime.
What is a Hate Crime?
Hate crimes are criminal acts perpetrated against a victim because of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. A hate crime can be almost any type of violent crime, but the most common include assault, assault with a weapon, robbery, harassment, vandalism, rape, and murder.
Type of Hate Crime Protections
Florida’s hate crime statutes are designed to protect individuals based on actual or perceived characteristics and Florida vigorously prosecutes hate crimes. There are two main categories of hate crime laws that seek to protect vulnerable communities:
- Laws that protect institutions: These are laws prohibiting institutional vandalism. These laws enhance crimes such as defacing a church, mosque, or synagogue.
- Laws that protect individuals: These are laws that protect individuals based on their membership in a specific group. Hate crime laws make it crime to perpetrate a crime against a person because of their membership in a protected class.
Motivation Matters for Hate Crimes
A defendant’s motivation is key to a hate crime charge. If a prosecutor believes that the accused criminal behavior was motivated simply by the defendant’s prejudice or hatred of the victim then the criminal act qualifies as a hate crime. During a trial in which there is a potential hate crime penalty, a prosecutor must be able to demonstrate that a defendant perceived, knew, or had reasonable grounds to know that the victim was a member of a particular group. On the other hand, if a defendant’s primary motivation for the criminal offense was something else (e.g. monetary gain), then crime is not likely to be classified as a hate crime.
Florida Heavily Penalizes Hate Crimes
Hate crime charges enhance the penalties a defendant might face before a Florida court of law. For example, a second-degree misdemeanor charge can become a first-degree charge if the assault is charged as a hate crime. A defendant convicted of a hate crime can face severe penalties that include long-term imprisonment, probation, high fines, and mandatory community service or rehabilitation. Florida’s hate crime laws also apply to charges brought up against minors.
Seek Help From an Attorney
If you are facing hate crimes charges, contact a criminal defense attorney at Moses & Rooth. We can help you through the process and seek the best outcome possible for you. Call us today at (407)-377-0150 to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help you.