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What actions are considered hate crimes?

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When a violent crime is believed to have been committed against a person because of that person's race, religion, ethnicity, disability or other characteristic, it may be prosecuted as a hate crime. These crimes can carry much tougher sentences than violent crimes committed for other reasons. Sometimes they are considered federal crimes.

The characteristics included under hate crime laws have increased over the years. For example, in 2009, President Obama signed a law that included sexual orientation and gender identity.

Crimes against property can also be classified as hate crimes if they are alleged to have been motivated by hate for a group or done with the intention of causing fear or terror within a community. We've seen African-American churches set on fire, for example. There have been numerous incidents recently of Jewish cemeteries being vandalized.

Proving that a crime is indeed a hate crime in court can be a challenge for prosecutors. They have to provide convincing evidence that the defendant(s) had hateful intentions toward a particular group of people. If a defendant was shouting anti-Islamic or homophobic slurs during the crime for example, that would be evidence. Often vandals put their intentions into written words, leaving racist or anti-Semitic graffiti on a home or building.

Even making a threat of violence, with no intention of carrying it out, can be considered a hate crime because it's considered a means of inflicting terror on a group of people. The rise in hate crimes against a multitude of groups across the country has sparked proposed legislation in our state to increase penalties for threatening violence against churches and other religious facilities. This includes bomb threats.

Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly introduced a bill this month that would change this crime from a Class D felony, which carries of maximum prison sentence of five years, to a Class C felony, which could land a person in prison for up to 10 years.

The rising number of hate crimes has people who may already feel marginalized and threatened on edge. As lawmakers look at ways to curb this trend, we're likely to see stricter hate crime laws across the country. If you're charged with a hate crime, be aware of the potentially serious consequences and ways in which you can fight the charges.

Source: FindLaw, "Hate Crimes," accessed March 28, 2017

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