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New Law Would Broaden Parameters of Hate Crimes in Pennsylvania

November 22, 2016

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

This summer, a Pennsylvania legislator proposed a bill that would make assaulting a police officer a hate crime. If passed, this law could have a significant impact on how assaults are prosecuted in the state and may also disproportionately affect certain members of the community. Assaults are considered serious offenses in Pennsylvania, especially if the alleged victim is a police officer, so if you have been arrested for or charged with assault, it is critical to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can ensure that your interests are protected.

House Bill 2261

Louisiana was the first state to pass what is being referred to as a “Blue Lives Matter Law.” New York recently introduced a bill similar to that proposed in Pennsylvania, while Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, and Florida are all considering similar legislation. A federal law amending the definition of a hate crime is also in the works.

Specifically, House Bill 2261 would amend the current hate crime law by adding intimidation based on employment to the list of banned offenses. As a result, under the terms of the bill, a person could be charged with committing a hate crime if he or she is motivated by hatred and maliciously commits an offense against another based on that person’s position as a law enforcement officer. For the purposes of the statute, a law enforcement officer would include anyone who is vested with a legal duty to maintain public order or to make arrests, including:

  • Police officers;
  • Corrections officers;
  • Parole agents;
  • Members of park police departments;
  • Firefighters; and
  • Emergency medical services personnel.

The bill would also allow an offense committed against a law enforcement officer to be charged one degree higher than the current standard. This means that a second degree misdemeanor would become a first degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. This is significantly harsher than a second degree misdemeanor, which carries the threat of a two year prison sentence and a $5,000 in fine.


While efforts to increase the safety of police officers and emergency responders is a laudable goal, many critics have expressed concern over the broad language of the bill. They point out that according to the current language of the bill, almost any interaction could be considered a hate crime, which leaves a significant amount of discretion in the hands of prosecutors and police officers.

How Contacting an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Assaults are treated seriously in Pennsylvania and carry severe penalties. If passed as it is currently written, the Blue Lives Matter Law has the potential to make these penalties significantly more serious. Having the advice of an attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of a case, so if you live in Pennsylvania and were charged with assault, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim by calling (215) 486-0123 and we will help you schedule a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.



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