Hate crime charges are on the rise. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released data showing that 7,759 hate crimes were reported nationwide in 2020—a 12-year high and a 6 percent increase over the previous year. Reporting varies from state to state. The New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety recently reported that 2021 saw a “record-high” number of bias incidents (hate crimes) in the state.
Being accused of and charged with a hate crime is especially stressful. Everyone has a right to defend themselves. Matthew V. Portella is a New Jersey hate crimes defense lawyer with more than two and a half decades of experience. Our firm provides proactive, effective representation. If you or your family member were charged with a hate crime, we can help. To set up a strictly private consultation with our New Jersey hate crimes defense attorney, please do not hesitate to contact us today.
Understanding Hate Crimes Charges
Broadly defined, a hate crime is a criminal offense motivated by adverse bias based on legally protected characteristics. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that hate crimes offenses were charged in New Jersey in 2020 based on racial bias, national origin bias, religious bias, gender bias LGBTQ status bias, and disability bias. Some examples of hate crimes include:
- A physical assault motivated by the victim’s racial and ethnic identity;
- An act of vandalization motivated by the religious beliefs of the victim; and
- A sexual assault motivated by the victim’s LGBTQ status.
An Overview of New Jersey’s Hate Crime Statute
In New Jersey, “hate crime” is often called “bias intimidation.” Hate crimes—bias intimidation offenses—are charged under NJ Rev Stat § 2C:16-1. The statute applies broadly to most types of criminal charges—from violent crimes to weapons charges to sexual misconduct. A bias intimidation charge may be filed when any one of the following criteria is met (statutory language):
- “With a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or
- Knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ethnicity; or
- Under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.”
What are the Penalties for a Hate Crime (Bias Intimidation) in New Jersey?
A hate crime is a very serious offense. There is no such thing as a “minor” bias intimidation charge. These allegations always need to be taken seriously. At the same time, the severity of a bias intimidation charge in New Jersey will depend largely on the specific nature of the underlying offense. A bias intimidation charge increases both the grade of the underlying charge and the potential penalties. Here is an overview of the penalties for hate crimes in New Jersey:
- Disorderly Persons Offenses: If the underlying charge is a disorderly person’s offense, a bias intimidation charge will enhance the grade to a fourth-degree fine. It carries up to 18 months in prison.
- Fourth, Third, or Second-Degree Offenses: Fourth, third, and second-degree criminal offenses are all graded one grade higher if there is a bias intimidation charge added on. Penalties for a conviction are three to twenty years in prison.
- First-Degree Offenses: A first-degree underlying offense is already the most severe type of criminal charge. With a bias intimidation enhancement, these charges can potentially carry life imprisonment.
Contact Our New Jersey Hate Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
At the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, our New Jersey hate crimes defense attorney fights for the rights, liberty, and future of clients. If you or your loved one was charged with a hate crimes offense, please do not hesitate to contact us for a confidential consultation. With offices in Pleasantville and Haddonfield, we provide hate crimes defense services throughout the region.