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Do you know what a hate crime is? The federal government and 49 states have hate crime laws in place. Wyoming is the only state without a hate crime law in place. While some states address a hate crime as a separate offense, others handle hate crimes as an aggravating circumstance to a separately specific crime. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 is the federal hate crimes law. The central purpose of this piece of legislation was to provide funding as well as technical assistance to state and local jurisdictions to promote the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

The federal hate crime act made willfully causing bodily injury because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of another person a crime. To be considered a hate crime at the federal level, however, the crime must have impacted interstate or foreign commerce or, alternatively, occurred within federal special maritime or territorial jurisdiction. Texas, however, has its own unique definition of a hate crime and how hate crimes are handled.

What Is a Hate Crime in Texas?

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act back in 2001. The act was established to address crimes that are motivated by bias or prejudices; in other words, hate crimes. The Texas Hate Crimes Law is codified in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. It only applies in the event that a judge or jury determines beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime with the intentional target being a group protected under Title V.

Instead of making a hate crime a separate offense, the Texas hate crime law makes the hate crime designation an aggravating circumstance of a separate criminal offense. The hate crime designation will enhance the level of severity of the original crime by one level. For instance, a second-degree felony considered to be a hate crime will become a first-degree felony. One exception to this being if the charged offense is a Class A misdemeanor. In that case, the punishment will be increased to 180 days in jail instead of raising the level of the crime to the felony level.

The other exception to having a hate crime increase the level of seriousness of a crime is in the event of the most serious crimes having been committed. If a person has been charged with a first-degree felony, non-capital offense, such as murder, aggravated robbery or kidnapping, the fact that it is a hate crime will not increase the offense to the next category. This is because the offense would then be considered a capital offense and, therefore, punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Criminal Defense Attorneys

Have you been charged with a crime that could be considered a hate crime? There are special considerations that will need to be taken into account. The criminal defense team at Navarrete & Schwartz is prepared to mount the strongest possible defense for you as we fight against all criminal charges you may be up against. We are proud to serve the residents of Midland, Texas. Contact us today.