In light of at least 2 recently publicized attacks, one on a Muni bus on a transgender couple and another on an African American man near the Civic Center, it seems timely and particularly relevant to discuss the difference between an actual hate crime and other types of attacks. It takes more than an attack on a member of a protected class for any particular incident to be considered a true ‘hate crime.’ California law dictates (CA Penal Code 422.55, 422.6, 422.7, & 422.75) that a person’s intent in the commission of a crime can matter a great deal.
There are several different protected classes of persons covered by California statutes on hate crimes: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, gender, disability, and so on. In order to be considered a true hate crime, the crime must involve some kind of bias or prejudice that results in a violation of another person’s civil rights, and was motivated by their membership in one particular protected class or another. Put more plainly, committing a crime that is solely motivated by a person’s distaste or hatred for another person because they are of a certain ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc. Additionally, it does not matter whether that person is actually of that race, ethnicity, etc. it only matters that you believed, or perceived, this to be the case.
Most California hate crimes end up being attached to another, foundational, crime. For example, if there is a burglary during which racial slurs were used, then your potential sentence would be longer than with a simple burglary not involving a ‘hate crime.’ There are also ‘stand-alone’ hate crimes, different hate crime penalties for misdemeanors and for felonies. The simple fact is that committing a hate crime will result in a much longer sentence than the foundational crime. Still, simply because a person in a particular protected group was attacked, unless it is clear that hatred is the only motivation, does not make it a hate crime.