Discrimination because of a person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity still sometimes happens here in the United States, but in the 21st century in the state of New York, that kind of discrimination is against the law.

In New York, what are the penalties are when someone is convicted of a hate crime, what must you do if you are accused of a hate crime, and how can a Westchester County criminal defense lawyer help?

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A “HATE” CRIME AND A “PROTECTED” CLASS?

The definition of a hate crime in New York is a serious or violent crime based on prejudice against the presumed gender, religion, race, color, ancestry, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or disability of the victim or victims.

It does not matter if the perpetrator’s presumption regarding the victim or victims is correct or incorrect – it is still a hate crime.

A protected class is a group of persons who are legally protected from discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of their shared common characteristic. Protected statuses under New York law include race, religion, color, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability.

IS SPEECH STILL PROTECTED?

Speech alone is not a hate crime. If someone speaks derogatorily about a protected group but does not place anyone in reasonable fear of harm, no crime has taken place, and in fact, the speech may be protected as free speech by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Actual hate crimes, however, are considered a genuine threat to all of us, so the criminal justice system in New York aggressively prosecutes these crimes, and anyone who is convicted of a hate crime should not expect any leniency from the court.

If you are charged with a hate crime in Westchester County or anywhere in New York, it is imperative to obtain the advice and representation of a skilled criminal defense attorney at once. It’s legal help that you are very much going to need.

WHAT CRIMES MAY BE CONSIDERED HATE CRIMES?

What crimes may be charged as hate crimes in New York if there is evidence of hate on the part of the defendant? Actual, injury-causing physical violence isn’t necessary; hanging a noose in front of someone’s home or painting a swastika on someone’s sidewalk is a hate crime.

The law in New York also lists dozens of violent crimes that may be charged and prosecuted as hate crimes, including but in no way limited to:

1. assault, menacing, burglary, or arson in the first, second, or third degree
2. manslaughter, strangulation, or kidnapping in the first or second degree
3. stalking in the first, second, third, or fourth degree
4. rape or criminal sexual abuse in the first degree
5. murder in the second degree
6. any conspiracy or any attempt to perpetrate any of the crimes listed here

HOW ARE HATE CRIMES PUNISHED IN NEW YORK?

New York’s hate crime sentencing guidelines are quite complicated. When someone is convicted of a hate crime in this state, a number of factors will be considered when the sentence is imposed, including the precise nature of the crime and the offender’s previous criminal record.

Here is what the law – New York Penal Code 485.10 – says:

“When a person is convicted of a hate crime … and the specified offense is a misdemeanor or a Class C, D or E Felony, the hate crime shall be deemed to be one category higher than the specified offense …”

WHEN WERE HATE CRIMES OUTLAWED IN NEW YORK?

Governor George Pataki signed New York’s first hate crime law back in 2000. The legislation passed easily with support from both Democrats and Republicans. At the signing, Pataki told reporters:

“Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of our citizens. They disrupt entire communities and cannot be tolerated. By signing this legislation today, we are ensuring that these heinous acts, so inherently destructive to our society, will no longer be tolerated.”

The law requires all of New York’s police agencies to compile hate crime statistics, and hate crimes in New York City are – sadly – increasingly common. In 2016, the New York Police Department responded to 376 crimes that were eventually categorized as hate crimes.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A HATE CRIME?

A criminal hate crime charge is the kind of charge that can cause others to lose their trust and respect for you. If you are accused of a hate crime in New York, you must be represented by a defense lawyer who will fight aggressively to clear your name and restore your reputation.

When you are charged with a crime, as you know, it does not mean that you will be convicted.

If your lawyer can’t have the charge reduced or dropped, and if you do not take a plea bargain, your guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury. For a jury to convict you, a prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt – which may not be easy in a hate crime case.

HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER HELP?

Not everyone accused of a hate crime is guilty. If you are innocent and charged with a hate crime in New York, you must be defended by an attorney who understands hate crime laws and knows what it takes to have the charge against you dropped or to win an acquittal on your behalf.

A qualified criminal defense attorney will review the details of the charge and launch an immediate, independent investigation of the case and the accusations against you.

Your defense lawyer will compile and examine the evidence, identify and interrogate the witnesses, look for and exploit any weaknesses in the state’s case against you, and fight aggressively for the fairness and justice you deserve.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK TO AN ATTORNEY?

If you are charged with a hate crime or with any misdemeanor or felony in Westchester County or anywhere else in the state of New York, do not procrastinate. You must speak immediately with an experienced defense lawyer who will fight for justice on your behalf.

If you are charged with a hate crime in New York, legal help is your right. What will be at stake are your freedom and your future. Do not wait to contact a good criminal defense attorney.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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