A bill under consideration in the Florida Legislature would include gender and gender identity within the definition of a hate crime, for which enhanced penalties may be imposed.
Florida law defines a hate crime as an offense motivated by bias against a victim based on a personal characteristic, such as race, ancestry, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, homeless status, sexual orientation, disability or advanced age. If the pending bill is adopted, gender and gender identity would be added to that list.
The legislation would also expand the definition of a disability under the hate crimes law to include any limitation on a person’s major life activities. The law currently covers only developmental disabilities, organic brain damage or mental illness.
The bill, SB 194, was passed by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 2 and must go through two more committees prior to being considered by the full Senate and the House of Representatives.
Florida’s governor is required to collect and disseminate data about criminal incidents that show evidence of prejudice against people based on personal characteristics listed in the hate crimes statute. Hate crimes can include vandalism, harassment, robbery, assault, murder and other offenses.
Classification as a hate crime causes the degree of the charged offense to increase. A first-degree misdemeanor becomes a third-degree felony and a third-degree felony becomes a second-degree felony. That means a defendant faces a longer prison sentence, a higher fine and perhaps additional penalties. The periods of probation and community service may also be greater.
In order for an individual to be convicted of a hate crime, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s act was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on one or more of the victim’s personal characteristics as set forth in the law. An individual charged with a hate crime may assert a number of defenses. These can include showing that:
The defendant did not commit the underlying offense.
The evidence for attaching a hateful motive to the alleged offense was not credible.
The defendant had no history of conduct showing hatred of the victim or bias against people with similar characteristics.
The defendant did not or could not have identified the victim’s personal characteristic in question.
There was an unbiased motivation for the alleged offense.
Being convicted of a hate crime can have serious consequences for your livelihood and reputation. If you have been accused of a crime that is alleged to have been motivated by prejudice, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who will work zealously to protect your rights.
The Law Office of Roma W. Theus, II, P.A. provides effective representation for clients facing criminal charges throughout Florida. If you have been accused of a crime or are being investigated by state or federal authorities, please call 954.281.4851 or contact me online for a consultation at my Wellington office.
The Law Office of Roma W. Theus, II, P.A. is located in Wellington, FL and serves clients in and around Loxahatchee and Pahokee.
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