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Penalty Enhancements And Hate Crimes In Florida

Crime takes place daily for a variety of reasons and motives. There are some instances in which a person committing a crime can be charged differently than he would ordinarily be charged for the particular crime because of a characteristic of the victim. This kind of enhancement of a charge is often seen in cases involving hate crimes. For example, a person charged with a hate crime for an assault on another person may face a higher penalty than a similarly situated person charged with simple assault.

What is a Hate Crime?

In Florida a crime may be enhanced as a hate crime if the crime committed can be shown to have been committed against the victim because the person had a prejudice against the victim based on the victim’s race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, being homeless, mental or physical disability, or advanced age. The prosecution has to show that the person committing the crime knew or should reasonably have known the victim belonged to one of the groups listed above.

While it may be difficult to show the motive behind a crime directed at a victim that may belong to the groups covered by the law, it is not impossible. The prosecution can rely on words said by a person accused of committing a hate crime before, during, or after the crime to show that the crime was motivated by a prohibited prejudice. Additionally, the prosecution may look to the accused’s social media postings to check for any indication that the person holds certain views against the group the victim belongs to.

What Does Enhancement Mean?

Enhancing the crime as a hate crime means that the crime is bumped up to a more serious category than would ordinarily be charged. For example, if a crime would ordinarily be a second degree misdemeanor, it can be enhanced to a first degree misdemeanor. Similarly, if the crime is ordinarily a first degree misdemeanor, it is enhanced to a third degree felony. Charging the crime under a more serious category may result in a more serious penalty.

Property Crimes against Places of Worship

Florida law also specifically criminalizes property damage that is aimed at religious places of worship such as churches, synagogues, mosques, or other places of worship. A person may be charged with a third degree felony for willfully and maliciously vandalizing or causing property damage to such a place of worship. Third degree felony crimes in Florida are punishable by up to five years in prison. Unlike with hate crimes against people, here, the prosecution does not need to specifically show that the person charged with the crime was motivated by a prejudice or hate of the particular religion, only that the person willfully and maliciously committed a property crime against a place of worship.

Contact a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges in Clearwater, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney with a focus on getting the best result in every case to advise you on your case. Contact the Clearwater criminal defense attorneys at Roman & Roman, P.A, for a consultation today.

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