Florida Hate Crime Laws

hate crimes in florida

Florida passed new legislation that delivers harsher punishments against hate crimes. These enhancements include tougher penalties and a broader definition of what hate crimes are by law. This means it is critical for Central Florida residents, and those of other state jurisdictions, to understand the criminal process that ensues upon a hate crime charge.

What is a Hate Crime According to Florida Law?

Hate crimes are defined as motivated criminal acts based on the characteristics of another individual or group of people. Often, committing a crime of this nature is a way of making a statement against other classes or types of people.

These types of crimes focus on prejudice against certain classes, such as:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Ancestry
  • Age
  • Homelessness status

The defendant’s motive determines if the crime constitutes a hate crime or not. This broad interpretation can open individuals up to hate crime charges even though their actions were not indeed related to their victim’s identity. Motive plays a large role so important it is imperative that your lawyer understands how to establish that your alleged crime was not based upon the hate of one of the protected classes stated above. Perhaps if there indeed was a crime, it was just an expression of free speech or maybe it had nothing to do with Race, Ethnicity or Sexual Orientation at all. Sometimes prosecutors can overreach because of political pressures.

Requirements of Florida Hate Crime Charges

In 2017, legislators reclassified Florida Statute S775.085 to widen the definition of a hate crime, as well as further define the circumstances leading to this kind of charge. This caused an increase in the penalties for these criminal acts which makes it vital to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a hate-related offense.

Certain conditions must be met to utilize this section of law. The law allows the application of harsher consequences for hate crime-related offenses committed by individuals or groups when:

  • The defendant coerced, intimidated or threatened another person or organization based on race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, ancestry, national origin, age or homeless status.
  • The person or organization that was offended can show evidence of coercion, intimidation, and threats by the defendant which were based on the classes protected under law.
  • The defendant clearly knew or understood that the victim classified under protected status.

If it is determined that a hate based motive was involved in the criminal act, the charges are reclassified as follows:

  • A second-degree misdemeanor becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree.
  • A first-degree misdemeanor becomes a felony of the third degree.
  • A third-degree felony becomes a felony of the second degree.
  • A second-degree felony becomes a felony of the first degree.
  • A first-degree felony becomes a life felony.

These reclassifications only occur if a criminal offense rises to the level of a hate crime which means there must be clear evidence that prejudice and hate were the defendant’s primary motives.

Penalties for Committing Hate Crimes

Because Florida law recognizes that hate crimes have a significant adverse effect on communities, penalties are severe for those convicted. If the requirements are met to reclassify the charges, a judge may sentence the defendant to one or more of the following:

  • Imprisonment
  • Fines and court costs
  • Probation or parole
  • Community service involving the targeted groups/victims
  • Lose the right to own a weapon
  • Lose the right to vote
  • Strike on your permanent record
  • Counseling programs

One’s reputation could also be ruined in their community since many hate crimes are often published online and in local media. This situation can have a long-lasting effect on one’s life and career goals, even if the charges are dismissed later.

Hire an Experienced Attorney

When charged with a felony or misdemeanor that is enhanced under the Florida hate crimes statute, it’s critical to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney by your side.  Your rights and reputation need protection from the moment you are under investigation through the trial process.  Hate crime penalties are harsh and affect more than just the accused, but also their families, careers, and communities.

If you or a loved one need representation against these types of charges, contact The Umansky Law Firm today at (407) 228-3838 to get a free case evaluation. Let our over 100 years of combined experience fight for your future and freedom. As former prosecutors, we know how the state approaches these types of cases, and this gives us an advantage in the courtroom. We put our clients’ best interests first in everything we do, so they get the best possible outcome. Don’t wait until you are in court to decide on representation, and let us help you right away!