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Why are hate crime charges particularly serious?

Why are some crimes considered "hate crimes," while others are not? Hate crime charges can result when a crime is determined to be motivated by the victim's race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation -- either real or perceived.

Maryland has hate crime laws. However, hate crimes can also be prosecuted on the federal level. In 2009, President Obama signed the Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. Among other things, the law increases penalties for people convicted of violent hate crimes.

Hate crimes are taken very seriously by state and federal prosecutors. That's in part because they are often perpetrated in order to send a message and to provoke fear in others who share a particular characteristic, such as religion or sexual orientation, with the victim.

Even if the victim of a crime is not a member of a particular group, if it is alleged that he or she was victimized because the assailant perceived him or her to be, the defendant can still be charged with a hate crime. For example, after 9/11, a number of people of the Sikh faith were attacked by people who mistook them for Muslims. Obviously an attack on someone based on their affiliation with any religion would be considered a hate crime. However, these attacks demonstrate that someone's appearance alone can move some people to violence.

If you or a loved one are facing state and/or federal hate crime charges, it's essential to seek experienced legal guidance. If prosecutors cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your alleged actions were motivated by bias or hate against a person for a characteristic such as those we mentioned, it will impact the legal penalties faced.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, "Civil Rights Prosecutions: Hate Crimes," Benjamin B. Wagner, accessed Aug. 07, 2015

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