Hate Crime Law

When one commits a crime in our society, we believe in the fundamental concept that the punishment should fit the crime. In other words, one should not be harshly punished or otherwise deprived of one’s property, life, and rights for a minor infraction. This belief in correlated punishments is the hallmark of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which prescribes that cruel and unusual punishments are not permitted. However, Florida, along with many other states, in an attempt to standardize the punishments that go hand-in-hand with their crimes, has set up guidelines that take the guesswork out of sentencing and provide criminal defendants with a reasonable understanding of possible consequences for any misconduct or act. If you or a loved one have been arrested for involvement in a hate crime, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

Reclassification Due to Prejudice as the Motive

Sometimes, however, sentencing guidelines determine that when the victim is from a specialized or vulnerable background, he or she may be entitled to additional protections. This is to ensure that when a criminal defendant acts in a way that leads to the injury or death of another person based on certain characteristics, the criminal defendant will receive a harsher punishment to deter other possible criminal acts against this person or persons who belong to this special class. In other words, when a person commits a violent crime against another because he knows or perceives the victim to be a member of a certain class, and that motivates the violent act, the person will receive a harsher punishment, even though someone who commits the same crime, but for a different motive, will receive a lesser sentence.

Carl’s Law Protected Classes and Characteristics

This law, known more colloquially as Carl’s Law, or offenses committed while evidencing prejudice, determines that the following characteristics (regardless of whether they are actual characteristics or perceived characteristics) or class of people should be protected:

  • Race, ethnicity, and/or national origin;
  • Religion;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Homeless status;
  • Advanced age; and/or
  • Mental or physical disability.

According to the law, advanced age applies to any person over the age of 65 years of age. A person is considered to be homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate residence where he or she could be found at night.

Mental or Physical Disability: The Requirements for Reclassification

The term “mental or physical disability” is an explicitly broad standard and only requires that the person suffer from some physical condition or mental incapacity that restricts that person’s ability to perform normal functions of daily life. It is required, however, that for a criminal defendant to be charged under this statute, it must be established that he or she knew, had reason to believe, or perceived that the victim, at the time he/she committed the violent act, had this mental or physical impairment. It is not enough that it occurred coincidentally nor does it matter if the person actually has this mental or physical disability if the criminal defendant acted under the belief that he or she was mentally/physically impaired.

How Reclassification Works Under Carl’s Law

Accordingly, Carl’s Law provides that for any criminal defendant who causes harm, serious injury, or death to another due to his/her prejudice against one of the characteristics or specialized class, the sentence will be harsher than if the person had not acted under the motive of prejudice. The sentence, regardless if it is for a misdemeanor or a felony, will be reclassified one step higher, so that a felony of the first degree will be a life felony, a felony of the second degree will be reclassified as a felony of the first degree, and so on.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.