COVID-19 has forced everyone to shelter in place, stay at home, and avoid interaction with others. While this has helped to slow the spread, it has also resulted in a reduction of some crimes. State police have reported a drop in certain offenses, such as property crimes and break-ins. Although this is good news, there is one type of crime that has been on the rise since the pandemic began. These are hate crimes, specifically against Asian Americans.
The coronavirus outbreak began, of course, in Wuhan, China. Since the end of 2019, when the outbreak began, there has been a surge of hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans throughout the country. Now, those hate crimes are becoming more prevalent in Pennsylvania, too. Hate crimes in the state, and throughout the rest of the country, are very specific and require certain elements in order for the prosecution to secure a conviction. Anyone that has been charged should speak to a Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer that can help.
Hate Crimes and Free Speech
One of the most misunderstood elements of hate crimes involves hate speech. Under the First Amendment, all Americans have the right to free speech. This can include speech that is directed towards a victim in a protected class, such as individuals of a certain race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Many people use this as a defense to a hate crime and in many cases, it is a valid defense. However, when that speech involves harassment, or a reasonable person would believe that the speech constituted a threat of bodily injury or harm, it crosses the line into a hate crime.
The Intent Behind a Hate Crime
The requirement that speech must be reasonably interpreted as a threat against a person is not the only defense that is often raised in hate crime cases. The intent behind the act or speech is also important. Simply committing a crime against someone in a protected class is not necessarily a hate crime, although a person may still face charges for the offense committed.
For the prosecution to secure a conviction for a hate crime, they must also show that the intent behind the offense was based on a person’s protected characteristic. When there is no evidence that the offense was committed based on a protected characteristic, the alleged perpetrator may avoid the aggravated penalties that are associated with hate crimes.
Charged with a Crime? Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help
No one should be the victim of a hate crime, but no one should face these serious charges when they have not committed the offense, either. If you have been charged with a hate crime, our Allentown criminal defense lawyers can help. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our experienced attorneys understand that law enforcement and prosecutors are often overzealous when pressing charges, and we know how to defend against them. When you are facing charges, call us at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to learn more about how we can help.