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 considering the primary motivation of the person accused of the crime. If the criminal act was motivated primarily 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.
The reclassification of crimes as a hate crime requires 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.
In other words, the defendant’s primary motivation for committing the offense is the key to proper classification. 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 distinction exists even if individuals involved in the incident were of different races or used demeaning slurs during the commission of the crime.
Hate crimes often generate more attention 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.
Penalties for the Reclassification of Hate Crimes in Florida
Section 775.085, F.S., reclassifies the felony or misdemeanor degree of an offense if the commission of the offense shows prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim.
Additionally, Section 775.0863, F.S., reclassifies the felony or misdemeanor degree of an offense if the commission of the offense shows prejudice based on the victim’s mental or physical disability. For example, Florida’s hate crimes are reclassified under Section 775.085(a), F.S., as follows:
- a first degree felony is reclassified to a life felony;
- a second degree felony is reclassified to a first degree felony;
- a third degree felony is reclassified to a second degree felony;
- a first degree misdemeanor is reclassified to a third degree felony; and
- a second degree misdemeanor is reclassified to a first degree misdemeanor.
The reclassification of the degree of a crime has the effect of increasing the maximum sentence that a judge may impose for the offense. For example, the maximum sentence for:
- a life felony is generally a term of imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment and a $15,000 fine;
- a first degree felony is generally 30 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine;
- a second degree felony is 15 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine;
- a third degree felony is 5 years in state prison and a $5,000 fine;
- a first degree misdemeanor is 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine; and
- a second degree misdemeanor is 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The felony reclassification of a hate crime in Florida may impact the scored lowest permissible sentence under the Criminal Punishment Code. For example, if the primary offense is a second degree felony, then it would typically score more sentence points than a primary offense that is a third degree felony.
Jury Instructions for Hate Crimes in Florida
The Florida jury instruction for ss. 775.085 and 775.0863, F.S., provide that the jury should find a defendant guilty of the crime charged (or a lesser included crime) aggravated by the defendant intentionally selecting the victim based on prejudice if the jury finds that the defendant committed the crime charged (or lesser included crime) and also finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:
- perceived, knew, or had reasonable ground to perceive or know the victim’s race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, mental or physical disability, or advanced age; and
- intentionally selected the victim because of that perception or knowledge.
In State v. Stalder, 630 So.2d 1072, 1077 (Fla. 1994), the court explained why proof is required that the defendant intentionally selected the victim. But “[t]o qualify criminal conduct for sentencing enhancement under section 775.085, Stalder does not require that prejudice be the sole motivating factor for the underlying crime.” State v. Hart, 677 So.2d 385, 386 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996).
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:
- 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
- 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 based on prejudice as especially serious.
What is the legal definition of a “hate crime”? Under Florida law, 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; or
- The existence of another apparent motive.
Florida’s Hate Crimes Reporting Act
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.
The Hate Crimes Reporting Act requires the collection and dissemination of that data by Florida’s Governor through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Subsection 1 of Section 877.19 requires the compiled information to be disseminated upon request to any state agency, unit of local government, or local law enforcement agency.
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.
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 Sammis Law Firm.
During the free consultation, we can discuss the charges pending against you, the potential penalties for hate crimes, and the best defenses that can be asserted at trial.
Our main office is located in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. We have a second office in New Port Richey in Pasco County.
Call (813) 250-0500.
This article was last updated on Friday, May 7, 2021.