In general, crimes such as assault or vandalism are charged according to the state statute dealing specifically with these offenses. However, when prosecutors determine that a crime was committed against a person simply on the basis of certain characteristics of the victim or victims, the defendant may be subject to enhanced penalties under state or federal hate crimes laws.
If a person is targeted because of his or her race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, or disability, Oklahoma consider such an act to be a hate crime. Oklahoma is one of only 15 states with hate crime laws that do not included sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal hate crime legislation lists the aforementioned characteristics as well as sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
While the state prosecutes hate crimes, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) is required to implement reporting systems to gather data related to hate crimes in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma’s law against hate crimes is codified in 21 O.S. § 850: Malicious Harassment Based on Race, Color, Religion, Ancestry, National Origin, Disability.
State law prohibits targeting a person for harassment, intimidation, or violence because of qualifying characteristics—real or perceived—of that person.
A. No person shall maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability:
1. Assault or batter another person;
2. Damage, destroy, vandalize or deface any real or personal property of another person; or
3. Threaten, by word or act, to do any act prohibited by paragraph 1 or 2 of this subsection if there is reasonable cause to believe that such act will occur.
B. No person shall maliciously and with specific intent to incite or produce, and which is likely to incite or produce, imminent violence, which violence would be directed against another person because of that person's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability, make or transmit, cause or allow to be transmitted, any telephonic, computerized, or electronic message.
C. No person shall maliciously and with specific intent to incite or produce, and which is likely to incite or produce, imminent violence, which violence would be directed against another person because of that person's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability, broadcast, publish, or distribute, cause or allow to be broadcast, published or distributed, any message or material.
Penalties for committing a hate crime are additional to those associated with conviction of the primary act: assault, vandalism, threats, inciting violence. As a first offense, maliciously targeting a person for the crime is a misdemeanor that carries up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A second or subsequent hate crime is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
As mentioned before, federal law adds gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation to the list of groups protected by hate crime laws. The federal hate crime law was enacted in 2009 as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, more commonly known as the Matthew Shepard Act.
James Byrd, Jr. was an African-American man killed by three white supremacists who dragged him behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, in 1998.
Matthew Shepard was robbed, beaten, and tortured by two men who pretended to be homosexual in order to lure the gay teen into trusting them, and was killed because of anti-gay sentiment.
Found in 18 U.S. Code § 249, the federal hate crime law enacts severe punishment for any offense involving a victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Willfully causing great bodily injury or attempting to inflict great bodily injury by means of a dangerous weapon (including a firearm), fire, explosive, or incendiary device is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. However, if the offense results in death, or if the offense includes kidnapping (or attempted), aggravated sexual abuse (or attempted), or an attempt to kill, the maximum sentence is life in prison.
Hate crimes can be difficult to prove, as they require the prosecutor to give irrefutable evidence of the defendant’s state of mind when he or she allegedly committed the offense. It is not enough that the perpetrator and victim are of different races, for example; the prosecutor must prove that the perpetrator committed the crime because of the victim’s race.
To learn more about state and federal hate crime laws, or to find an attorney who can discuss your case with you, call Coventon Criminal Defense at (405) 417-3842 and schedule a confidential free consultation.