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Hate Crimes in Florida

The Florida State Legislature recognized that crimes based on prejudice or bias against a protected class of people have the potential to cause greater individual and societal harm. As a result, the Florida Legislature created enhanced penalties that could be used to charge individuals or groups of people for crimes that are classified as “hate crime.”

The key to hate crime classification is the motivation of the person accused of the crime. If the criminal act was motivated simply by the defendant’s prejudice or hatred of the victim because of the victim’s perceived race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, the criminal act qualifies as a hate crime. Therefore, it is an essential element for the reclassification of crimes as a hate crime that the record reflects that the defendant perceived, knew, or had reasonable grounds to know or perceive that the victim was within the class delineated in this section.

Conversely, if the primary motivation for the offense is something else, for example, monetary gain, the offense should not be classified as a hate crime. This is true even if individuals of different races are involved in the incident or demeaning slurs are spoken during the commission of the crime. The defendant’s primary motivation for committing the offense is the key to proper classification.

Hate crimes often generate more attention both from officers, prosecutors and the media. As a result, any person accused of a hate crime needs an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney.

Attorney for Hate Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you have been accused of selecting the victim of a crime based on prejudice such as the victim’s advanced age, physical disability, mental disability, homeless status, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, color, or race, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL.

We represent clients throughout the greater Tampa Bay area including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hernando County and Polk County, FL. Let us put our experience to work for you. Call (813) 250-0500 today.

Aggravation of a Crime by Selecting a Victim Based on Prejudice

Under Florida Statute § 775.085, Fla. Stat. and § 775.0863, Fla. Stat., a crime can be aggravated based on proof that the victim was selected based on prejudice. The elements of this accusation require proof beyond all reasonable doubt of the following elements:

  1. the defendant perceived, knew, or had reasonable ground to perceive or know (victim’s) [race] [color] [ancestry] [ethnicity] [religion] [sexual orientation] [national origin] [homeless status] [mental or physical disability] [advanced age]; and
  2. the defendant intentionally selected (victim) because of that perception or knowledge.

Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate Crimes

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department, and other local law enforcement agencies maintain a zero tolerance policy towards these types of crime. Regardless of the circumstances, law enforcement officers often regard the investigation of these crimes as serious. Prosecutors can be equally serious when prosecuting these crimes that involve an allegation that the crime was based on prejudice.

A hate crime is defined as any criminal act that is either committed or attempted against another person or another person’s property motivated by hatred toward the victim based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, mental or physical disability, or advanced age of the victim.

Reclassification of Hate Crimes for Sentencing Enhancement

Florida Statute §775.085 sets out the reclassification framework for hate crimes committed in Florida.

Florida’s “hate crimes” statute, s. 775.085, F.S., reclassifies the degree of a misdemeanor or felony if the commission of the offense evidences prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, mental or physical disability, or advanced age of the victim.

The term “mental or physical disability” means that the victim suffers from a condition of physical or mental incapacitation due to a developmental disability, organic brain damage, or mental illness, and has one or more physical or mental limitations that restrict the victim’s ability to perform the normal activities of daily living.

The term “advanced age” means that the victim is older than sixty-five years of age.

Evidence of Hate Crimes in Florida

In hate crime investigations in Florida, the investigating officer will often look for the following times of evidence:

  • Statements of the person accused of the crime;
  • Statements made during the commission of the crime;
  • The use of symbols associated with prejudice such as graffiti or tattoos;
  • The nature of the offense itself;
  • Circumstances leading up to the offense;
  • The defendant’s affiliation with extremist groups; and
  • The existence of another apparent motive.

Florida Statute § 877.19, the Hate Crimes Reporting Act, requires local law enforcement officers to report certain information about the arrest and prosecution to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when the offense is alleged to be a hate crime.

2012 Statistics on Hate Crimes in Florida

In 2012, local law enforcement agencies reported 170 hate crimes in the State of Florida. That number was higher than in 2011 when only 139 hate crimes were reported. The reported hate crimes included both crimes against persons or crimes against property. Crimes against persons represented 68.8% of all incidents reported in 2012. Crimes against property accounted for the remaining 31.2%.

In 2012, 117 of the reported hate crimes were committed against persons and 53 were committed against property. Property crimes included arson, vandalism and burglary. Hate crimes were classified in the report according to the protected class with 54.1 percent of the crimes were based on race or color, 28.8 percent were based on sexual orientation, 10 percent were based on religion, 6.5 percent were based on ethnicity, and .06 were based on mental disability.

The report did not include information on how many of these crimes were committed against a person who was homeless. Being homeless was added as a protected class in 2010, but it was not part of the UCR and the data was not collected by law enforcement agencies or the FDLE as part of the Hate Crimes Reporting Act.

Additional Resources

Florida Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights – Find the reports from the Attorney General on hate crimes published as required under the Hate Crimes Report Act for every year since 1994.

Florida Statute 877.19 – Hate Crimes Reporting Act – Read the statutory language on the Hate Crimes Reporting Act in its entirety which requires the collection and dissemination by the Florida Governor of data on “incidents of criminal acts that evidence prejudice based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin.”.

Finding a Lawyer for Hate Crime Investigations in Florida

If you or a loves one has been accused of a criminal offense involving an allegation that it was committed against another person because of hatred or prejudice against a protected class, then call the experienced criminal defense attorneys in Tampa, FL, at the Sammis Law Firm.

Our offices are located in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. Call (813) 250-0500.

This article was last updated on Thursday, December 7, 2017.

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