Florida Hate Crimes: Are they a step forward or a step back?

March 16, 2012

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A former Rutgers student, after jury trial, has been convicted of anti-gay hate crimes related to invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence and a host of other related crimes. The ex-student faces 10 years in prison based upon his conviction as reported by the LA Times.

The Florida Legislator has deemed many violent crimes specifically targeting a class of individuals as hate crimes. Hate crimes are defines Federally under the 1968 Civil Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. ยง 245, which establishes a number of criminal penalties for the use of force or intimidation to prevent the free exercise of civil rights on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. The Act provides penalties for whoever, "by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with" another (1) "because of" that person's "race, color, religion or national origin. Florida statutes mirror the Federal law: if a crime is deemed as a "hate crime" prosecutors can seek enhanced penalties against the person accused of such acts.

This brings up many important questions regarding race and sexual orientation in the modern era? Aren't all crimes of violence in one way another motivated by an evil intent? In a modern society, should we still inquire about someone sexual orientation or skin color? Do certain members of society need "extra" protection under the law? Are we imposing reverse discrimination to those individuals not in a protected class?

Let's take a closer look at the concept of hate crimes. For example, if two persons of the same race get into a fight and one commits a battery on the other, presumably there is no "hate crime" and the person who allegedly committed the battery would not be subject to enhanced penalties. However, if we alter the hypothetical and the victim of the battery is in a protected class being gay or African American then the same accused could potentially receive a harsher penalty. Is this fair? Presumably both individuals are in a fight and both individual presumably "hate" each other at that moment. Should one individual receive a harsher penalty based upon his or her skin color?

On the other hand, I think society would agree that committing a crime or discriminating toward an individual based upon their race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or nation origin is egregious. Due to the current laws on the books, Legislators feel that those members in the protected class need protection. An important question however is how long does a specific class need "protection"? At what point to we become a color blind society and every individual is treated the same regardless of race and sexual orientation? All these questions are something to think about and society along with the Florida Legislator need to be able to adapt to the changing times of society. Many classes that needed protection in the past may be more mainstream and no longer need or desire the extra protection. The more individuals that are treated differently than others the greater the potential for discrimination.

Hate crimes are based upon America's history of past injustices. At what point are those injustices rectified and America can treat all citizens equally? Only time will answer all the questions. As for now, individuals targeting protected classes to bully or intimidate them, like the former Rutgers student, will face enhanced penalties for their actions. Everyone can agree targeting someone because they are different than the majority is egregious. The only question is, at what point do we determine that all crimes against our citizens are equally egregious?

The Lawyers at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. have handled hundreds of cases involving hate crimes. If you or a loved one has been accused of a hate crime or you nee more information regarding crimes of battery or hate crimes visit our website at www.BlakeDorstenLaw.com or call us at 727.286.6141.