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What Makes a Crime a Hate Crime?

A man wearing a red shirt with his hands behind his back wearing handcuffs, representing how one can benefit from calling a Portland criminal defense lawyer.

Especially in the recent weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about hate crimes. However, exactly what constitutes a hate crime is not often obvious, is rarely explained, and can be difficult to understand. Unfortunately, every crime has the potential to be a hate crime, depending on who it was committed against, and why.

Luckily, legally speaking, hate crimes work in some of the same ways that crimes of domestic violence work. These similarities make it easier to understand how hate crimes can impact a criminal charge against you.

Crimes of Domestic Violence

A crime of domestic violence is just any other crime – like assault, or battery, or sexual assault – that is done to a particular group of people: Household members. A “household member,” for purposes of Maine’s domestic violence laws, includes blood relatives, current or former spouses, and most commonly, sexual partners. If the victim of a crime is not a household member, then the crime can’t be one of domestic violence.

When a crime has a domestic violence component to it, then it carries additional penalties. In this way, crimes of domestic violence are like “crimes plus,” because they have all of the repercussions of the original crime, plus another layer from the domestic violence element.

Hate Crimes

Hate crimes work in a similar way.

A hate crime is any kind of crime that is done out of bias against someone. This means that any normal crime, from violent crimes like assault and manslaughter to property crimes like arson, that is committed against someone because of who that person is becomes a hate crime.

Federal and Maine hate crime statutes protect a certain set of traits. These include:

  • Race and national origin,
  • Skin color,
  • Religion,
  • Ancestry,
  • Gender,
  • Disability, whether physical or mental, and
  • Sexual orientation.

Any crime committed against someone that is motivated by one of these traits becomes a hate crime.

Practically speaking, if you get charged for a hate crime, the only thing different will be the sentencing process, if you get convicted or plead guilty to the underlying crime. For example, if you’ve been charged for assault and battery, the prosecutor will have to convict you for assault and battery first. The hate crime factor only becomes during the sentencing process and following a conviction. This is because Maine sentencing law expressly allows the motivation of a crime against people with these particular traits to be taken into account during sentencing. Therefore, just like crimes of domestic violence, hate crimes are “crimes plus” because they add a layer of seriousness to another type of crime.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

Being charged with a crime in the state of Maine is not a small issue. When prosecutors and law enforcement are trying to charge you with a hate crime, though, it gets even more serious. The legal repercussions get much more severe, and the social stigma of being charged or, worse, convicted for a hate crime is especially difficult.

Having a solid criminal defense on your side to defend against a charge of a hate crime is paramount. Contact the law office of criminal defense attorney William T. Bly online or at (207) 571-8146.


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So thankful I chose this team to represent me. They’re the best, hands down. Nathan Hitchcock proved my innocence not once but TWICE, including a trial by jury. I have a family in law enforcement who told me “Bill Bly and his team are the best. If I would recommend anyone, it would be them.”

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