What does it mean to be charged with a hate crime in Florida? What exactly is a hate crime?
Many people are still unaware of Florida's hate crime laws or don't understand the implications of being involved in a hate crime. While many crimes are the result of rash actions without a lot of forethought, knowing exactly what kind of trouble you might be stepping into can help you make better choices -- the kind of choices that would have helped a 51-year-old Florida man on this past Martin Luther King Day.
He picked that day to confront a group of black teenagers as they rode their bikes to protest the loss of affordable housing in the Liberty City area in an organized event known as "Bikes Up, Guns Down." The event was organized by an activist group known as the "Dream Defenders."
Apparently, the man took issue with the fact that the teens were blocking traffic. His response, however, was to walk toward them while cursing, shouting racial epithets and brandishing a weapon that he was carrying illegally.
Naturally, his actions were all caught on numerous cellphones, and police were called. They arrested him a short while later. While they initially leveled charges of carrying a concealed weapon (a felony) against him, prosecutors are now exploring the possibility of a hate crime enhancement.
In Florida, if your crime is shown to be motivated in any way by the victim's race, skin color, ethnic origin, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, advanced age, national origin, or homelessness, you're going to face much more severe penalties.
In the heat of the moment, it's easy to let a single spark of anger flare out of control. However, knowing that you could suffer serious long-term consequences for giving the wrong impression of your motivations may help you choose your actions -- and your words -- more wisely.
If you make a mistake and are charged with a felony, with our without a hate crime enhancement, you should seek immediate assistance from an experienced defense attorney.