Hate Crime

Lebanon Criminal Defense Attorney Explains Hate Crime Enhancements

Representing those accused of bias crimes in Nashville, Mt. Juliet, Cookeville, and throughout Tennessee

A hate crime enhancement to a criminal charge is based on the motivating factor underlying a criminal act. In the eyes of the law, there is a difference between assaulting a person because a heated conversation got out of hand, and then there is assaulting a person because of the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation. Hate crime enhancements are aggravating factors to a criminal penalty for an offense, and if proven, will lead to additional punishments, such as a longer jail sentence or increased fines.

At Lowery, Lowery & Cherry, our Lebanon criminal defense attorneys have more than 70 years of combined legal experience protecting the Constitutional rights of those accused of crimes throughout Tennessee. You can schedule a consultation with a skilled hate crimes defense lawyer to discuss your case today.


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What is the definition of a hate crime?

The term “hate crime” is a bit of misnomer. After all, one could argue that intentionally murdering someone is an act of hate – and yet felony murder is not necessarily a hate crime. What a hate crime really is, is a crime of bias – a criminal act driven specifically by bias or discrimination against a particular person, or group of people.

A hate crime is a crime that “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 of any person.”

Further, the FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Understand that hate crime enhancements are simply that – enhancements. The Constitution allows you the right to hate anyone you wish. It even allows you to express that hatred, because “hate speech” is not a crime. However, and this is the key, the Constitution does not allow you to commit crimes without fear of repercussion. If law enforcement feels that you committed a crime, and that the crime was motivated by bias or discrimination, you could face additional penalties because of hate crime enhancements.

Hate crimes in Tennessee

The FBI's Hate Crime Statistics 2018 reports that in Tennessee there were 100 hate crimes based on race or ethnicity, 26 based on religion, 29 based on sexual orientation, 13 based on disability, two based on gender, and four based on gender identity.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) 2018 crime report showed bias or hate crimes increased by one percent since 2017. Crimes based on race, ethnicity, or ancestry bias accounted by almost 56% of the hate crimes, with bias against African Americans making up 31.6% of all known biases.

What must the government prove for a hate crime conviction?

Proving that crimes such as assault, vandalism, arson, rape, kidnapping, robbery, or murder were motivated by bias or hate is not an easy task, given that it is impossible to read a perpetrator's mind. The investigators must find evidence that the crime was motivated by hate or bias for the protected groups listed in the law. The TBI Hate Crime Report reveals that “before an incident can be reported as a hate crime, objective facts must be present to lead a prudent person to conclude that the offender's actions were motivated by bias.”

Some of the factors which might be supportive of a finding of bias include:

  • The offender and victim are of different races
  • Bias-related drawings, markings, symbols, or graffiti were left at the crime scene
  • Bias-related verbal comments, written statements, or gestures were made by the offender indicating his/her bias

Absent these or other factors on the TBI list, an experienced Lebanon criminal defense attorney from Lowery, Lowery & Cherry will work to show that your actions were not hate or bias-based.

What are the penalties for federal hate crimes?

Suspected hate crimes fall under federal jurisdiction when they are related to federally-protected activities such as voting, attending public school, or participating in jury duty. Additionally, there are federal laws addressing hate crime such as The Matthew Shepard Act, or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA). The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act required the United States Sentencing Commission to increase the severity of penalties for federal hate crimes.

The penalties for federal crimes, depending on the severity, can include 10 years or more in prison, fines of up to $250,000 and the possibility of supervised release. A conviction may also include the death penalty if death results from the offense, or if it includes violent crimes such as kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, attempted aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, and 31 states and D.C. have laws which create a civil cause of action, in addition to the criminal penalties for the crimes. A person convicted of a hate crime might face additional civil penalties should the victim prevail in court.

Therefore, it is vital that you work with a competent Lebanon criminal defense attorney right away. We are here to protect your rights and safeguard your future. In addition to whatever judicial penalties a person convicted of a hate crime may face, or who is found liable in a civil case for damages, there are other consequences – including limited opportunities in education, housing, professional licensing, voting, holding public office, and the ability to possess firearms.

Schedule a consultation with a seasoned Lebanon criminal defense attorney today

The Lebanon defense attorneys of Lowery, Lowery & Cherry PLLC possess more than 70 years of combined legal experience and pride themselves on providing their clients with an energized and highly-focused approach, along with an impressive range of legal expertise. If you face a violent crime or property crime charge with a hate crime enhancement, please contact us today. We serve clients in Nashville, Mt. Juliet, Cookeville, or elsewhere in Tennessee. To set up a consultation, call 615-444-7222 or fill out our contact form.