By Judge Steve Halsey
It has been reported by the Anti-Defamation League that nationwide anti-Semitic incidents are up 86 percent in 2017 from the same period in 2016. These include assaults, harassment, and vandalism, often directed at synagogues and cemeteries.
A “hate crime” is not a defined crime under Minnesota Statutes contrary to popular belief. Minnesota law, however, provides more severe penalties when a person is convicted of certain crimes perpetrated against a victim because of a specific characteristic of the victim. If a crime is found to be motivated by bias, the maximum penalty rises one level, from misdemeanor to gross misdemeanor or from gross misdemeanor to felony. There is no higher penalty than a felony, therefore, the sentence could be greater prison time.
The crimes are criminal damage to property, assault and harassment-stalking. The personal characteristics of the victim, “actual or perceived” include race, religion, color, sexual orientation, sex, disability, or national origin.
Police officers are required by law to report and classify any crime they investigate as a “bias crime” if either the officer or victim believes bias was a motivating factor in the commission of the crime. It is not necessary that the officer agree with the victim’s conclusion that bias was involved.
At the federal level, bias crime penalty enhancement involves crimes across a state line or national border, or using a channel, facility or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce (trains, planes, their facilities)
What is the rationale for enhanced penalties for bias crimes? Vanita Gupta, head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, made these remarks in December 2015 speech at the White House:
“In America, our Constitution guarantees all people – regardless of what they look like or where they worship – fundamental fairness and equal justice under the law. That simple but unwavering belief has driven America’s leaders, over generations, to defend and enforce the principles that form the foundation of a tolerant and open society. Two hundred and twenty five years ago, that belief led President George Washington to assure the Jewish community of New Port, Rhode Island, that the United States ‘gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’”
Combating discrimination based on one’s religion remains fundamental not only to protecting our values but also to defending our freedom. We cannot – and we must not – allow our enemies to define how we live or to dictate how we treat one another. To people in this country of every faith and nationality who feel afraid, threatened or unsafe, please know you will never stand alone. Let us bring America ever closer to the founding vision of a land protected by justice, anchored in fairness and filled with opportunity for all its people.
When citizens and non-citizens alike are targeted for violence for their race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, all citizens are affected and at risk for similar acts of violence. In our democracy such acts of bias cannot be tolerated.
— Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey is chambered in Buffalo. He also maintains a blog at www.minnesotafamilylawissues.blogspot.com.