Under California law, crimes that target a person’s religion or ethnicity qualify as a hate crime
In late April, n the last day of Passover, a man entered the Chabad of Poway near San Diego and began to shoot. During the shooting, the 19 year old suspect killed one person and injured three. It was the six month anniversary of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Both political and religious leaders around the state and the country were quick to condemn the attack. Many denounced it as a hate crime. But what is a hate crime under California law, and does this crime qualify?
According to a criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles, CA, a hate crime can be defined one of two ways under California law. First, a person can be charged with a hate crime for interfering with another’s civil rights because of their protected status, which includes religion. Second, a prosecutor may seek to enhance a defendant’s sentence by charging a person with a hate crime enhancement. Under this version, a hate crime is motivated by a protected characteristic of a person. In California, protected characteristics include disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.
If a person commits a crime against a person because of their religion — because they are Jewish — that would be considered a hate crime under California law. As a consequence, prosecutors can seek a hate crime enhancement.
In this case, the suspect will likely be charged with first-degree murder, among other offenses. Because the suspect wrote a manifesto (published online) where he specifically stated that he wanted to target Jewish people, it will likely serve as proof that he targeted the people that he shot because they were Jewish. Because the killing was committed in whole or in part because of the victims’ religion, if the suspect is ultimately convicted, he will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hate crime enhancements are often rare, as defendants in criminal cases rarely leave explicit writings explaining why they are committing a certain crime or admitting that they are, in fact, committing a hate crime. This makes the Poway synagogue shooting unique.
In other cases, it may be more challenging to prove that there was a motivation to commit a crime because of a person’s protected characteristic. In these situations, a skilled criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles, CA can investigate the facts of the case and come up with a strong defense against a hate crime enhancement. Because the burden is on the prosecutor to prove that this motivation exists, a skilled attorney may be able to successfully challenge this type of claim if there is not solid evidence of a hate crime.
If you have been charged with a crime, the Chambers Law Firm is here for you. We are dedicated, aggressive attorneys who are passionate about our work. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or email@example.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer Los Angeles, CA.