The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently released its 2016 hate crime statistics. The report includes reported crimes that were "motivated by biases based on race, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and ethnicity."
The FBI's statistics show that Washington has the third-highest rate of reported hate crimes in the country and that the number of reported hate crimes in Washington increased year over year.
Hate Crimes in Washington State
According to the FBI statistics, Washington ranked eighth in the total number of crimes reported in 2016. The number of Washington hate crimes increased from 275 in 2015 to 376 in 2016, paralleling an overall national rise in reported hate crimes.
When adjusted for population size, Washington had the third-highest rate of hate crimes, at 5.3 crimes per 100,000 residents. Only Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts had higher reported hate crime rates.
Of the crimes reported in Washington:
- 62% were linked to race, ethnicity, or nation of origin
- 18% were linked to sexual orientation
- 16% were linked to religion
The reporting and tracking of these crimes are imperfect and incomplete. Crimes may not be reported, and it is not always clear that bias was the underlying motivation for a crime. Therefore, the statistics likely do not present the full picture.
What is the Legal Definition of a Hate Crime in Washington State?
In Washington State, hate crimes are "crimes and threats motivated by bigotry and bias."
Actions that can be considered hate crimes include causing physical injury to a person, causing physical damage to property or making threats based on the perception of a person's:
- national origin
- sexual orientation
- mental, physical, or sensory handicaps
Due to the historical context and the nature of the symbols involved, two acts are automatically considered hate crimes in Washington, with no need to examine the accused person's biases or intent:
- Burning a cross on the property of someone who is African American (or that the person who commits the act believes is African American)
- Defacing the property of someone of Jewish heritage (or that the actor believes is of Jewish heritage) with a swastika
What Are the Penalties if Someone is Convicted of Committing a Hate Crime?
The Washington legislature says it has a "compelling state interest" in protecting its citizens from harm due to bigotry and bias. Therefore, the state also takes a greater interest in (and imposes harsher penalties) on crimes that are motivated by bigotry and bias.
Washington refers to these type of crimes as "malicious harassment." Malicious harassment is a Class C felony, and it is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Given the severe penalties you could face if convicted of malicious harassment, it is recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.