Assault in and of itself is a charge that can result in lengthy prison sentences, hefty fines, and a criminal record of violent crime should you be convicted.
However, if the prosecution determines that the assault was motivated by the alleged victim’s perceived identity, it may also be considered a hate crime – something that will bump your charges and penalties up even further.
Although hate crime charges are relatively rare, they are on the increase in Colorado, so it is important that you understand how they work.
What Exactly Is a Hate Crime in Colorado?
Hate crimes – sometimes also referred to as “bias-motivated crimes” – occur when the perpetrator targets a victim due to his her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by race, religion, sexual orientation or identity, class, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, or political affiliation.
A hate crime can be any criminal act committed based on the victim’s perceived identity, and generally includes crimes such as assault, damage to property, harassment, verbal abuse or insult, offensive graffiti, or hate mail.
In the case of Colorado assault, you would be accused of a hate crime if the prosecution has reason to believe that the assault was motivated by the alleged victim’s identity.
Enhanced Penalties for Colorado Hate Crimes
Assault that is considered a hate crime will be charged as a Class 4 or 5 felony, depending on the extent of injury to the alleged victims and other aggravating factors. A Class 5 felony is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. A Class 4 felony is punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
Other hate crimes, such as harassment and menacing, are charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 18 months in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Defense Strategies for Hate Crime Charges in Colorado
A hate crime enhancement means that your case will automatically be higher profile and more sensitive, as this enhancement evokes emotion, passion, and politics.
However, prosecutors sometimes erroneously consider a crime to be a hate crime simply because it occurred across cultural lines. This in and of itself does not constitute a hate crime – the alleged victim’s identity must be the primary motive for committing the crime to begin with.
Although US society’s efforts to be more inclusive and accepting of minority groups continue to improve, if the last few years have taught us anything it is that we’ve still got a long way to go.
Sometimes in an effort to improve inclusivity we jump to the conclusion that a negative act against a group or individual in the minority automatically makes it a hate crime, but thankfully the law doesn’t work that way.
In order to successfully convict you of a hate crime, the prosecution must prove not only that the elements of the criminal offense (for example, assault) were present, but also that the intention behind your actions was motivated by the alleged victims’ identity.
To be crystal clear: the evidence must specifically demonstrate that you selected the victim because of his or her identity.
So, what should you do if you are facing a hate crime charge? Be proactive by learning more about what you’re up against, and consult with a knowledgeable Denver defense attorney as soon as possible.
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.