The state of Pennsylvania is going to be providing nonprofits and churches with millions of dollars to enhance their security against hate crimes. The impetus provides a great way to examine what a hate crime is, and how the law protects certain categories of people.
Pennsylvania Provides Grant Money to Prevent Hate Crimes
A bill has made its way through the Pennsylvania legislature that would create a five-year fund of $5 million to help churches and other houses of worship to beef up their security and prevent potential hate crimes. The money would be administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, to whom churches and other nonprofit organizations could send grant applications and request some of the money.
Those grants could range from $5,000 all the way up to $150,000.
Eligible applicants include any tax-exempt nonprofits – most of which are churches and 503(c) organizations – that the FBI has included in a bias motivation category for hate crimes.
The bill was originally proposed in the wake of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue a year ago.
Hate Crimes: Regular Crimes Committed Against Certain People
Hate crimes are a confusing aspect of criminal law because they do not focus on specific sets of conduct. Instead, hate crimes are very similar to domestic violence laws in that they protect certain people from other criminal activities. That extra layer of protection comes in the form of enhanced penalties for a violation.
Take simple assault as an example.
Typically, it is a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania and is punished with up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
However, if the assault is committed against someone protected by Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws, it becomes domestic assault. The fines and jail time are the same, but added repercussions can include:
- Higher bail
- A stay away order or restraining order or protection from abuse order
- Child custody issues
- Relinquishment of your firearms
Similarly, if the assault is committed against someone protected by hate crime statutes, the penalties of a conviction rise, as well.
Protected Classes Under Hate Crime Laws
Hate crime laws – both in Pennsylvania as well as on the federal level – work by creating categories of people called protected classes. Those protected classes aim to classify traits that a person either cannot change, or that would be unfair to expect them to change about themselves. Crimes committed against someone in a protected class and committed against them precisely because they are in that protected class become hate crimes that carry higher penalties.
This particular bill passed by the Pennsylvania legislature uses the FBI's list of protected classes from 2017.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves the Accused in Philadelphia
Anytime a crime victim is a member of a class of people protected by a hate crime statute, many people jump to conclusions that the offense should be treated as a hate crime. This is not the case. Prosecutors still have to prove that the criminal act was committed against the protected person because of the trait that puts them in a protected class.