In the state of Virginia, state authorities have a particular focus on hate crimes and will aggressively prosecute charges against those accused. According to the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, Virginia law allows for stiffer criminal penalties when prosecutors believe a crime is motivated by bias against a person’s race, color, religion, or nationality.
In 2017, Virginia had a total of 202 hate crime offenses were reported, highlighting the spotlight shone on these allegations. The reported offenses included:
- 38 assaults based on racial discrimination
- 44 property or vandalism offenses based on racial discrimination
- 68 racially-motivated crimes against African-Americans
- 22 anti-Jewish offenses
- 11 crimes against people with a mental or developmental disability
Two types of hate crimes
Hate crimes will fall under two categories: crimes against persons or crimes against property. Crimes against persons include assault and battery – threats of violence fall under this category as well. Crimes against property include physically damaging the property through vandalism, arson, and burning. Displaying an object with the intent to intimidate or cause fear is also included under crimes against property.
What isn’t a hate crime?
Offensive speech, while considered socially inappropriate and undesirable, is not in itself a hate crime. If the speech contains actual threats of violence or harm, then it may be treated as a hate crime.
Offensive speech has long been a source of falsely reported hate crimes. However, offensive speech is a legally protected form of free speech under the U.S. first amendment.
Investigations must be fair to the accused
It is important for those accused to have a strong defense to ensure they receive a fair and unbiased trial. A single careless accusation of hate crime, regardless of its validity, can ruin a person’s social reputation and their career.
Our criminal justice system is built on the principle that anyone accused of a crime – including one as sensitive as a hate crime – is innocent until proven guilty and deserves a strong defense. This is to ensure the government is accountable to its own evidentiary standards and to ensure the accused does not have their rights unjustly violated.