Both state and federal law provide enhanced penalties for people convicted of committing crimes against others on the basis of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, or disability. When a person is targeted because of one of these reasons, the criminal offense is considered a hate crime. Federal hate crime legislation also provides protection for victims targeted on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but these characteristics are not addressed by the Oklahoma hate crime law.
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In addition to defining hate crimes and the associated penalties, the state hate crime statute requires the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) to set up reporting systems and gather data pertaining to the occurrence of hate crimes within the state.
Malicious Harassment Based on Race, Color, Religion, Ancestry, National Origin, Disability
Hate crimes are outlined in 21 O.S. § 850, which deals with the "malicious harassment" of certain individuals based upon certain qualifying characteristics and perpetrated because of the bias, prejudice, and hatred of the assailant.
Any of the following offenses, when committed against another person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, or disability are considered hate crimes:
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:
- Assault or assault and battery
- Vandalism or destruction of property, including personal property or a place of worship
- Threat of violence or destruction of property accompanied by the victim's reasonable cause to believe such an assault will occur
- Inciting imminent violence or attempting to incite violence through transmission of telephonic, computerized, or electronic message
- Inciting imminent violence or attempting to incite violence through broadcast, publication, or distribution of any message or material
Upon a first offense, a hate crime as defined above is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A second or subsequent offense is a felony that carries a potential sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. These penalties are in addition to any penalties associated with the underlying harassment or assault.
Federal Hate Crime Legislation
In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly called the Matthew Shepard Act, expanded the federal hate crimes law to include offenses committed against a victim on the basis of his or her gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The federal hate crimes statute, 18 USC § 249, harshly penalizes assault based on the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim:
- National Origin
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
If a person willfully causes great bodily injury or attempts to inflict great bodily injury through the use of a dangerous weapon, firearm, fire, explosive, or incendiary device, he or she faces federal criminal conviction and sentencing as follows:
- A maximum of 10 years in federal prison, or
- A maximum sentence of life in prison if a death results from the assault or if the offense includes kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.
Typically, hate crimes are prosecuted by the state government, but if the victim or defendant crosses state lines, the state asks the federal government to prosecute the case, or prosecution by the United States is considered to be in the public interest and necessary to secure justice, the federal government will assume jurisdiction.
Hate Crime Defense Representation
If you are accused of assault, prosecutors may attempt to file hate crime charges against you if your victim is of a different race or nationality than your own. This may occur whether the assault was committed as a result of that difference or the differing race, religion, or origin was merely a coincidence and a zealous prosecutor attempts to file the most serious charges possible.
Whether you are prosecuted in state or federal court, you must find a competent, qualified attorney who is committed to providing the best defense available. Submit our confidential online case review form or call (405) 418-888 to speak with a defense lawyer about your charge.
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