In Texas, When Does a Crime Become a Hate Crime?

There are crimes, and then there are hate crimes. Between them is a fine line defined by bias – specifically, the discriminatory motive to commit a crime against a victim because of their race, sex, disability status, or another characteristic protected against discrimination.

Being charged with a hate crime may not only feel insulting and damage your reputation, but a conviction can come with more serious criminal penalties. Hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years, and with that rise has come greater attention paid toward them.

That said, misunderstandings, misidentifications, and a variety of other factors can cause someone to face inappropriately placed hate crime charges. When that happens, justice is at risk, and it becomes all the more important for defendants to seek legal experienced legal counsel.

What Exactly Is a Hate Crime?

We previously mentioned that a hate crime is a criminal offense motivated by bias. That is, it’s alleged that a victim was chosen as the target of a crime for some discriminatory reason.

A recent example of this might be the May 14 mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where a white gunman allegedly killed 10 people, most of whom were Black. The gunman’s weapon and manifesto both espoused white supremacist ideology, which is believed by those in the media to have fueled the gunman’s motivation to attack.

Race isn’t the only factor that can define a hate crime. Other protected classes include the following:

  • Skin Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual Preference
  • Disability Status
  • Citizenship Status
  • Ancestry

Importantly, it’s not necessarily a hate crime if an alleged victim happens to have a protected characteristic. What matters most is whether or not they were selected as a victim due to a discriminatory bias.

Texas Hate Crime Penalties

Hate crimes can be prosecuted by either the state or federal government. When Texas prosecutes an alleged hate crime, the defendant faces an enhanced punishment if convicted. Generally speaking, this means elevating the category of the alleged crime to the next higher category.

For example, graffiti is a Class C misdemeanor for a first offense in Texas. If the graffiti in question includes messages, images, or symbols that signaled a bias against an alleged victim, prosecutors might allege a hate crime occurred and elevate the charges to a Class B misdemeanor.

In this case, whereas the defendant faced a maximum of $500 in fines and no jail time, they would then face up to six months in jail and fines of up to $2,000.

Clearly, the elevation to the next higher category can have much more severe consequences when the basic offense alleged against the defendant is a Class A Misdemeanor or any level of felony.

Are You Charged with a Hate Crime?

If you were charged with a hate crime, our attorneys at Rodriguez & Gimbert, P.L.L.C. can provide the legal support you need. Not only do these charges come with potentially severe consequences in the event of a conviction, but they can also come with a stigma that you don’t deserve when allegations are misplaced.

For more information about how our legal team can help, contact us online now to request a consultation.