Many states as well as the federal government have hate crime laws. These laws deal with criminal activity that is perpetrated on someone or a group based on a protected characteristic. They can also apply to vandalism or destruction of places of worship or cemeteries where people of a particular faith are buried or of someone’s individual property.
Here in New Jersey, our statute refers to “bias intimidation,” but it’s comparable to a hate crime statute. It involves threatening, attempting, conspiring or committing an offense intended to intimidate someone based on their “race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.”
Bias intimidation charges vary based on the alleged crime
The degree of a bias intimidation charge will depend on the severity of the underlying offense. A person accused of beating someone up because they thought they were gay is going to face more serious charges than someone accused of scrawling racist or anti-Semitic graffiti on a person’s garage door.
Unless the underlying crime is a disorderly persons offense (in which case the bias intimidation charge is a fourth degree crime), according to the law, “bias intimidation is a crime one degree higher than the most serious underlying crime.”
Proving bias intimidation
To convict someone of bias intimidation, prosecutors have to prove that the victim was chosen because the perpetrator believed they belonged to a particular group. For purposes of the law, it doesn’t matter whether they actually are a member of the group or not. For example, there are numerous examples of Sikh people being injured and even killed because their attackers believed them to be Muslim.
A bias intimidation charge is not one you want to have on your record if you can avoid it. If you’re facing this charge in addition to whatever other charges you’re facing, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance as soon as possible to help protect your rights and determine the best way to handle the charge.