There are many motives behind assault and other violent crimes: uncontrollable emotions, a verbal altercation, intoxication, and so on. Some motives can be at least partially justified in court (i.e. a “crime of passion”), but when race or other types of biases are a factor, the case can go in the opposite way: penalties and charges may increase.
In other words, by arguing that you hurt someone due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on, prosecutors may be able to put you behind bars for longer or increase the fines that you have to pay – if you’re convicted.
Let’s look at a recent case in Aurora.
In January, two men sexually assaulted a 23-year-old woman in the Viejo Plaza Shopping Center. The men did not know the woman, but allegedly yelled racial slurs at her before they left the shopping center.
The victim in this case is white, and the two men are black. Due to the presence of the racial slurs in the case, news reports began to speculate whether or not the incident was a “racially-motivated crime” or “bias-related attack.” Without the racial slurs, the two men would simply face assault or sexual assault charges. However, when they are caught, it is possible that they will now face charges for committing a bias-motivated crime.
What Are Bias-Motivated Crimes?
Colorado’s laws protect people of every race, color, religion, sexual orientation, and so on, from receiving fear, intimidation, or harm from other people based on these factors. Bias-motivated crimes are committed in Colorado when a person, “with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation,” does the following:
- “Knowingly causes damage to or destruction of the property of another person.”
- “By words or conduct, knowingly places another person in fear of imminent lawless action directed at that person or that person’s property and such words or conduct are likely to produce bodily injury to that person or damage to that person’s property.”
These crimes are both considered class 1 misdemeanors in Colorado. If convicted, an offender faces up to 18 months in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. Additional penalties specific to the crime, including community service, may be added.
A more serious bias-motivated crime is committed when an individual, with the same intentions as mentioned above, “knowingly causes bodily injury to another person.” This charge is a class 5 felony, or a class 4 felony if multiple offenders were involved.
In addition to community service and penalties given out specifically for bias-motivated crimes, the penalties for a class 5 felony include up to 3 years in jail and up to $100,000 in fines. The penalties for a class 4 felony include up to 6 years in jail and up to $500,000 in fines.
That’s right. Having a partner in crime can mean an additional 3 years in jail and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more if you are convicted of a bias-motivated crime.
Defense Strategies for Beating Bias-Motivated Charges
So let’s say someone accuses you of assault, arguing that the crime was motivated by a specific bias. How can you fight these accusations and get your charges dropped – or at least mitigate the penalties that you face?
First, break down the charge. Bias-motivated charges consist of two parts: the actual act (causing bodily harm, causing damage to property, etc.) and your intention. Both of these parts are required in order to convict you. Rather than tackling both factors, focus on one. This will give you less work to do, and can allow you to chip away at the charges against you.
Understand why they are accusing you. Just like most other crimes in Colorado, the prosecution will have to provide proof that your intentions were motivated by bias. What evidence could they use against you? Were slurs or specific insults used during the incident? Does your criminal past, or posts on your social media account, suggest that you hold prejudice over a certain group of people? Are you, or were you ever a part of what Colorado classifies as a “hate group?”
All of these factors can be used as evidence against you. Be open and honest with your lawyer about your past, and what could lead a prosecutor (or judge, or jury) to believe that you committed a crime due to a bias.
Talk to a criminal defense lawyer. If you do not already have a lawyer on your side, you have a higher risk of facing a conviction and serious penalties. An experienced attorney can walk you through the process of being charged with assault and bias-motivated crimes, and what you can do to prove your innocence or get your charges dropped. Reach out to a Colorado assault lawyer immediately to get started on your case.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.