Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes

Oklahoma carries significant penalties for violent crimes such as assault and battery, rape, and murder. However, if a victim is targeted as a result of certain specified qualities, then the penalties are enhanced under state or federal hate crime legislation.

Under Oklahoma law, hate crimes are codified as "Malicious harassment based on race, religion, ancestry, national origin, or disability." Under federal law, assaulting or harassing a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity is also considered a hate crime.

Oklahoma Hate Crime Legislation

Section 850 of the Oklahoma criminal code defines hate crimes in the state as those which target a victim or victims because of specific bias or prejudice.

The statute defines hate crimes as the malicious and intentional harassment or intimidation of a person because of the victim's "race, color, religion, national origin, or disability." Acts of harassment or intimidation include the following:

  • Assault
  • Assault and battery
  • Vandalism
  • Threat of violence
  • Threat of destruction of property
  • Transmitting messages through telephone, computer, or electronic media intended to incite imminent violence
  • Publishing, broadcasting, or distributing material intended to incite imminent violence

The penalties associated with violating the Oklahoma hate crime statute are additional to any sentences levied for conviction of the underlying crime. Committing a hate crime is a misdemeanor on the first offense, but upon subsequent offenses, it is a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Again, this sentence would be in addition to the maximum penalty for the vandalism, assault, or assault and battery perpetrated during the hate crime.

As part of the statute, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) is charged with monitoring hate crimes and hate groups. The OSBI is to develop hate crime reporting systems, and state, county, and local law enforcement agencies are to submit monthly reports about hate crime activity to the OSBI.

Federal Hate Crime Law: The Matthew Shepard Act

In 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten in an act of anti-gay violence. He was so severely injured that a passing cyclist who discovered the victim 18 hours after the attack at first believed that he was a scarecrow. Shepard, who never regained consciousness while on life support, died of his injuries five days later. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were convicted of murder, with each man receiving two life sentences.

Just a few months prior to Matthew Shepard's death, James Byrd, Jr., was tied to the back of a pickup by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, and dragged to his death in a horrific and gruesome act of violence. Three men were convicted of his murder: Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed in 2011; John King, who is currently on death row; and Shawn Berry, who is sentenced to life in prison.

These unspeakable acts of hate-fuelled violence gave rise to federal hate crimes legislation, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly called the Matthew Shepard Act, expanded the federal hate crimes law to include offenses committed against a victim on the basis of his or her gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

In 18 USC  249, the federal government prohibits and punishes "offenses involving actual or perceived" race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin [or gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability] of any person -

(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if -

(i) death results from the offense; or

(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

In general, hate crimes are prosecuted by the state in which they occur, but the federal government prosecutes crimes that fall under their jurisdiction by occurring on federal property or by taking place across state lines.

Oklahoma Hate Crime Defense Lawyer

It is no secret that prosecutors often charge defendants with the most serious offenses possible and with as many offenses as possible. If the victim of a crime happens to be a member of any demographic often targeted by hate groups, a suspect may be charged with a hate crime even if the act was not motivated by hatred, prejudice or bias. A skillful defense attorney can challenge any evidence of a hate crime and can work toward having inflated charges reduced or dismissed.

For a close analysis of your case and to schedule a free consultation with an experienced violent crime defense lawyer, call the Law Firm of Oklahoma at (405) 608-4990 or submit our confidential online case review form.

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