According to the United States Department of Justice, hate crimes in Pennsylvania have risen significantly in the last three years. To combat this, the Pennsylvania legislature is developing new anti-hate crime legislation. This could mean that people who are charged with committing a crime against ethnic, racial, or religious minorities could face harsher penalties. The proposed changes would also provide additional funding for law enforcement to investigate these cases.
What Are the Proposed Changes to the Anti-Hate Crime Law in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed three House Bills to amend current hate crime laws in the state.
The first, House Bill 1024, creates annual training for law enforcement personnel to identify, report, and investigate hate crimes. This training provides a way for police and other law enforcement to track hate crimes more accurately. Officials and experts believe hate crimes have historically been under-reported or otherwise improperly categorized.
The next, House Bill 1025 will require post-secondary schools to offer anonymous, online hate crime reporting options for employees and students. It also indicates that K-12 employees should receive better training on identifying and addressing hate-related issues, like comments or other behaviors before they become serious enough that someone is harmed or killed.
Finally, House Bill 1027 amends the ethnic intimidation statute, making it a hate-based intimidation law. The law protects persons targeted for a crime or who face discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, color, sex, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age. This bill permits victims of a hate crime to sue the perpetrator.
All three bills passed the Pennsylvania House and are now heading toward the Pennsylvania State Senate.
How Could These Changes Affect Your Criminal Case?
If the prosecutor can prove that you intended to commit a crime against a member of a protected class because they were a member of their status as a member of a protected class as defined under Pennsylvania Crime Code Ethnic Intimidation (18 Pa. C.S.A. § 2710), then you could face enhanced penalties. You may also be charged with a federal crime in addition to a state crime.
You could also face civil penalties for the act, in addition to any criminal charges you could face. If House Bill 1027 is signed into law, victims of a hate crime would now be able to file a civil suit against the perpetrator(s) of the hate crime. So, even if you’re acquitted in criminal court, that may not prevent that person from successfully suing you. The burden of proof in civil cases is lower than in criminal cases. To win a civil case, the plaintiff (the alleged victim) must prove that the defendant committed the act based on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it’s more likely than not that the defendant did it. So, the plaintiff could win in civil court, even if they lose in criminal court.