What Exactly Constitutes a Hate Crime in Texas

Hate crimes are on the rise in the United States. Our Austin criminal defense lawyer explains exactly what constitutes a hate crime.

Instances of hate crimes are becoming more common in the United States, reaching a level that has not been seen in over a decade. With hate crimes becoming so common across the country, state and federal governments have regularly been expanding and updating their laws on hate crimes. Below, our Austin criminal defense lawyer explains what hate crimes are and how they are charged in Texas.

How are Hate Crimes Defined in Texas

Hate crimes are defined as any criminal offense that is committed based on the victim’s personal characteristics. In Texas, hate crimes occur when a person intentionally commits a crime based on another person’s:

  • Color
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Gender
  • Sexuality

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deals with hate crimes on the federal level. Hate crimes have similar definitions under federal law. Any offense that is motivated by prejudice and an individual’s status can be enhanced into a hate crime. Anyone charged with a hate crime faces much more severe penalties. In Texas, the prosecution must show that a defendant committed the offense due to prejudice or hatred towards the victim’s status.

Penalties for Hate Crimes at the State Level

Anyone accused of a hate crime will face enhanced penalties in Texas. However, the enhancement only applies to certain criminal acts. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, if someone commits a criminal offense against a person, graffiti, arson, or criminal mischief, and it is found that they committed the crime based on a person’s personal characteristics or protected class, the punishment is increased by one category.

For example, criminal mischief is normally classified as a Class C misdemeanor. If a person was arrested for criminal mischief but there was the added element of committing the offense based on prejudice, the offense would be upgraded and classified as a Class B misdemeanor, which has harsher penalties.

Although the law on hate crimes in Texas is clear, there are a few exceptions to it. For example, increasing a Class A misdemeanor based on a hate crime would make it a felony, and hate crimes are not enhanced to this degree. Instead, the minimum jail time for a Class A misdemeanor hate crime is increased to 180 days. The other exception is when a hate crime is classified as a first-degree felony. A conviction for a first-degree felony is already punishable by up to life in prison, so it cannot be enhanced.

Our Criminal Defense Lawyer in Texas Can Help with Your Case

Being accused of a hate crime is a very serious matter. At Granger and Mueller, P.C., our Texas criminal defense lawyer has the necessary experience to defend against these crimes, remove enhancements, and use other strategies that will give you the best chance of a favorable outcome. Call us today at (512) 474-9999 or contact us online to schedule a consultation and to learn more about how we can help.