What Are Hate Crimes?

February 2, 2023

A hate crime is a criminal act motivated by prejudice or bias against another person or group. It may involve almost any criminal offense if the criminal act is motivated by prejudice or discrimination. The perpetrator purposefully targets victims of hate crimes because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics the offender does not like.

At McEldrew Purtell, we understand the devastating effect a hate crime can have on a person. We want you to understand what hate crimes are and what you can do if you were the victim of one. You do not have to face all of this alone. We are here to help.

Hate Crimes Explained

A hate crime occurs when a criminal actor perpetrates an act against a person because of some prejudicial motivation. The name "hate crime" is fitting because the person dislikes or hates a particular group or characteristic. This may be hatred of a specific social group, racial demographic, or other class. The hate crime is motivated by this dislike or prejudice, but the act itself may be nearly any criminal act.

Victims of hate crimes usually belong to minority groups or a specific community. They are typically targeted because of some immutable characteristic they cannot change. Hate crimes in the US commonly occur because of hatred for the following characteristics:

  • Ethnic background, national origin, or race
  • Immigration status
  • Gender or gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • First language
  • Political views
  • Religion or religious beliefs

Many more characteristics may make a person a victim of a hate crime. When this happens, victims have rights they can use to pursue justice. 

Types of Hate Crime Incidents

A hate crime can happen in countless ways. Nearly any criminal act motivated by hatred of a particular group could constitute a hate crime, depending on the circumstances. Common types of hate crime incidents include:

  • Attacks at rallies or group gatherings
  • Defacement or arson at churches, mosques, and temples
  • Excessive force or brutality by police officers
  • Shootings by other citizens or police shootings
  • Domestic violence 
  • Assault and battery
  • Murder or attempted murder
  • Medical malpractice motivated by prejudice

These examples show how dangerous it is to be the target of a hate crime. When motivated by hate, people can do terrible things. If you have been the victim of this type of crime, you have options to pursue compensation and to report the crime against you.

Hate Crime Legislation

Hate crime legislation exists at both the state and federal levels. In Pennsylvania, hate crimes are referred to as "ethnic intimidation" and are found in Title 18, Section 2710 of the Pennsylvania Code. A person commits the offense when, with malicious intention toward a person's color, race, religion, or national origin, they commit certain crimes listed under the statute. It generally raises the level of the underlying offense by one degree when it is motivated by hate or prejudice. 

Several federal hate crime laws may apply to a specific offense. These include:

  • The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009
  • Criminal Interference with Right to Fair Housing
  • Damage to Religious Property, Church Arson Prevention Act
  • The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
  • The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act of 2021 
  • Conspiracy Against Rights
  • Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights

Understanding the unique applicability of these laws can be difficult without a knowledgeable attorney. A Philadelphia hate crime attorney knows how to apply these complex laws to your unique situation.

Hate Crime Statistics

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, hate crimes in Pennsylvania are a prevalent problem. In 2020, 58.2% of crimes occurred against a person, 40.7% occurred against property, and the remaining 1.1% were generally against society.

These crimes were primarily motivated by hatred of race, ethnicity, and ancestry, with 75.6% driven by these reasons. Religion and sexual orientation were the following highest motivators, at 15.9% and 6.1%, respectively. 

How Often Are Hate Crime Offenses Committed?

Hate crimes happen every day. Many hate crimes go unreported because victims do not know how to report the crime or feel they cannot do anything about it. LGBT hate crimes, religious hate crimes, and violent attacks against other groups are common, possibly many times higher than ever reported.

Ethnic minority groups often face significant discrimination and hate crimes. They often feel law enforcement or the government will do nothing to provide assistance. A skilled hate crime attorney in Philadelphia knows how to help.

What is the Criminal Sentence for a Hate Crime?

The criminal sentence for a hate crime depends on the nature of the underlying offense. In Pennsylvania, the hate crime statute typically raises the offense level by one if the underlying offense was perpetrated with a malicious purpose toward a protected group. This means a hate crime typically has more severe criminal sentences than the underlying offense without prejudicial motivation.

Federal law is even more complicated, but hate crimes may result in criminal sentences such as:

  • Long prison sentences
  • High fines and restitution to the victim
  • Community service and probation supervision
  • Registration in certain databases

The specific sentence a person may face will depend on their charges. Speak with a hate crimes attorney to understand the specifics of your case.

How to Report a Hate Crime

If you were the victim of a hate crime, you need to report it. Follow these steps:

  • Call 911 immediately after the hate crime and report it.
  • If the hate crime occurred in the past, contact local law enforcement and file a report.
  • Speak to a hate crime attorney in Philadelphia for help.

By taking these steps, you can help protect your rights. Our attorneys can help you report the crime and pursue all your legal rights as the victim of a hate crime.

Here When You Need Legal Representation

We are here for you when you need legal help. Perpetrators of hate crimes should be held responsible, and you deserve the ability to seek justice. The Philadelphia hate crime attorneys at McEldrew Purtell have the experience and skill to help you handle this situation and pursue the full extent of your rights.

Contact us today to learn more about your rights and what we can do for you.