Detectives in Burien, about 20 minutes south of Seattle, are trying to determine whether multiple arson fires and anti-Semitic graffiti at a home are hate crimes.
Earlier this month, in the predawn, emergency dispatch received a report of an explosion at a home. When firefighters and sheriff's deputies arrived on-scene, they found two vehicles were set ablaze along with a shed near the home. Investigators also discovered anti-Semitic phrases painted in black on the shed and on the front door of the home.
FBI crime statistics for 2015 show law enforcement agencies reported 41,376 arson fires nationwide. That same year more than 850 arson fires were reported in Washington state.
Under the Revised Code of Washington, causing a fire or explosion which damages a structure or motor vehicle is considered arson in the second degree. It is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, or a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
Although the FBI has not yet released hate crime statistics for 2015, nationally 6,418 offenses considered hate crimes were committed in 2014. In Washington state, law enforcement agencies reported 308 hate crimes that year. The FBI further broke down the numbers by the bias that motivated the crimes:
- 176 race
- 50 religion
- 43 sexual orientation
- 27 ethnicity
- 3 disability
- 8 gender
- 1 gender identity
In Washington, hate crimes fall under the heading of malicious harassment. A person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she commits one of the following acts because of their perception of the victim's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or mental, physical or sensory handicap:
- Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;
- Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or
- Threatens a specific person or group and places that person, or members of the group, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property.
Words alone do not constitute malicious harassment unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat and the person uttering them is capable of carrying out the threat.
In any prosecution for malicious harassment, the judge or jury may infer that the person intended to threaten the victim or group based on their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or handicap if the person commits one of the following acts:
- Burns a cross on property of a victim who is, or is perceived to be, of African American heritage; or
- Defaces property with a swastika if the victim is, or is perceived to be, of Jewish heritage.
Malicious harassment is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Regardless of the circumstances of your arrest, if you are facing criminal charges in Washington state, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.
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