Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Four Things to Know About Massachusetts Hate Crime Charges

A man in Revere was recently accused of painting racist graffiti, including swastikas, in his neighborhood. The man also spray-painted the phrase “white power” throughout the street. He was arrested on hate crime and vandalism charges and arraigned in Chelsea District Court. The man was later released and required to be monitored by GPS. 

Hate crimes refer to criminal acts that are committed against a victim due to the victim’s belonging to a certain protected group. Hate crimes result in serious harm to the victims, of course, but they also damage the fabric of society. Because hate crimes are an increasingly common occurrence in Massachusetts that carry especially serious penalties, it is worth understanding how these charges are prosecuted in the state.

Understanding “Protected Groups”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees every citizen a right to free speech, but this does not protect hate crimes. While posting disparaging comments on your personal social account might represent free speech, threatening to injure or kill someone because of their race of gender identity is a crime. Some of the protected characteristics that may not be targeted without being charged with a hate crime include:

  • Color

  • Disability

  • Gender

  • National origin

  • Race

  • Religion

  • Sexual orientation

If the perpetrator of a crime mistakenly targets a victim because of their perceived membership to a protected group, even if that person is not really a member of that group, the person who committed the crime can still be charged with a hate crime. For example, if someone assaults someone else because they are Jewish, but the victim turns out to be Christian, the attacker can still be charged with a hate crime.

How Hate Crimes are Categorized

Hate crimes can be committed against a person, several people, or an institution. Not all crimes committed against members of a protected group are hate crimes. A hate crime must be committed against a victim because of his or her membership in that group. 

To convict a person of a hate crime, the prosecution must establish that the crime was motivated by the victim’s protected status. To determine this element, the prosecution will often look for evidence of the defendant’s use of slurs against the protected group. These statements are often provided by witnesses, emails, or social media posts. 


Defenses to Hate Crimes

If you have been charged with a hate crime, one of the best things to do is to retain the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Some of the defenses used to respond to hate crime charges include arguing that:

  • The prosecution lacks sufficient evidence on which to base a charge.

  • The person being charged was unaware of the other party’s protected class.

  • There was a mistaken identity.

  • The crime in question was not motivated against the supposed target group.

  • A person’s words can be taken out of context and perceived as a threat.

  • The allegations can be the underlying result of tensions in a neighborhood and workplace and the person charged might be used as a scapegoat for a greater problem. 

Speak with a Hate Crimes Defense Attorney

Hate crime convictions carry serious repercussions, including a tarnished social reputation. If you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney, do not hesitate to contact attorney Edward R Molari today.