Crimes can be categorized in different ways, such as broadly by misdemeanors or felonies, or into specific types like assault, fraud, arson, and burglary. Another category of crime can make an existing crime more serious if the circumstances of the crime meet specific criteria. An example of this kind of enhanced crime is the hate crime.

There are two levels of hate crime: federally-defined, and those addressed by Oklahoma statutes.

Federal hate crime laws

The federal government statute outlawing hate crimes is 18 U.S.C. § 249. The operative language in this law is the phrase, “…because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” If a federal prosecutor can prove this kind of intent, then that would satisfy the “bias” requirement necessary to convert an otherwise ordinary act of physical violence into a federal hate crime.

Hate crime laws are not the exclusive province of the federal government, as we will see below. The pattern of practice is often for the U.S. Department of Justice to allow any state prosecution of the underlying crime to proceed first before deciding whether to do its own civil rights violation investigation via Federal Bureau of Investigation. Because the federal and state laws that apply to hate crimes are distinct from each other, this dual track approach does not pose a risk of double jeopardy even though both prosecutions would arise from the same set of facts.

Oklahoma hate crime laws

Oklahoma law on the subject of hate crimes is found in Section 850 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The trigger intent in the Oklahoma law is that the perpetrator of a crime must have “…the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability.” Oklahoma hate crimes include acts of physical violence as well as crimes against property as well as the use of any kind of print or electronic media to send communications that would be likely to incite violence against a person in one of the classes of people the law is meant to protect. Another feature of the Oklahoma statute not found in the federal version is a provision making cross-burning and vandalism directed against religious structures specific hate crimes.

Are hate crimes easy to prove?

A frequent criticism of hate crime laws is that they may have the effect of creating a class of “thought crimes”, raising the spectre of the kind of trumped-up legal violations that totalitarian governments use to suppress domestic political opposition. In practice, though, hate crime laws are not a sure thing for prosecutors. Convictions have usually involved conduct on the part of the defendant that is especially egregious and leaves no doubt that the motivation for the criminal act was largely if not primarily based on bias-connected animosity. For example, recently a black man was found in a nearby state having been hanged to death from a tree, something that harkens back to racially-motivated lynching behaviors in the 19th and 20th centuries, but federal prosecutors have suggested that they will not pursue the matter as hate crime at least in part because they cannot be certain that the death was a homicide.

The difficulty of proving a hate crime should not lead to a false sense of confidence in anyone who has been accused of one. The enhanced penalties upon conviction of either a federal or an Oklahoma hate crime are such that defense counsel must mount an aggressive defense based on thorough investigation of the facts as well as courtroom evidence to head off such a possibility if at all possible.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, call the Hunsucker Legal Group for your free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 405-231-5600 or complete the contact online form.