Alabama Criminal Law: Hate Crimes

Violating the law and getting charged with a crime is always a serious situation, and the specific type of charges can have a huge impact on the potential penalties. One of the most significant factors that can make a crime more serious is the motivation behind the event. When a crime is motivated by hate or bias, it is classified as a “hate crime,” which can come with elevated penalties. Alabama is one of 45 states that have specific laws against hate crimes, so whether you are the victim of a crime, or you have been charged, it is important to understand what this means.

Understanding Hate Crimes

Hate crimes in Alabama are defined under the Alabama Criminal Code Title 13A. Most crimes that are committed against an individual or a group specifically because the accused is biased against them may be considered a hate crime. In order to qualify, the victim or victims must be chosen because they are a part of a qualifying group, which includes:

  • Race
  • Skin Color
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Disability

These are the most common groups associated with hate crimes, but there are others as well. It is also important to note that there are federal laws on the books regarding hate crimes, so even in situations where Alabama law doesn’t specifically offer added protections, they may be there for federal charges. For example, members of the LGBT community don’t receive any additional protections under Alabama state law, but in Federal courts those protections are in place.

When determining whether hate crime charges will be applied, the determining factor is typically motivation. Even if the victim doesn’t fall into one of the above-mentioned categories, but the suspect committed the crime because they thought they did, it can be a hate crime. For example, if someone attacked a Sikh because they mistakenly believed that they were Muslim, it will typically still be considered a hate crime.

Why Hate Crimes?

Hate crime laws are in place because of the idea that when someone commits a crime against another party based on hate or bias, the entire group can be considered the victim. In addition to the actual victim of the crime, the rest of that community will feel threatened or harmed. In addition, this type of crime is considered a threat to the open and pluralistic society that laws are meant to protect.

Protect Your Rights

Hate crimes are an important part of the legal code in Alabama, but this legal area can be quite complicated because the protections are spread out over multiple legal statutes. For example: 

  • Ala.Code § 13A-5-13 – This statute enhances penalties when it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, national origin, ethnicity, color, physical or mental disability, or religion. 
  • Ala.Code § 13A-6-28 – This statute makes it a felony to burn a cross or an American flag with the intent to intimidate.
  • Ala. Code § 13A-11-12 – This statute makes it a misdemeanor to desecrate public monuments, structures, places of worship, or places of burial.

These, and other statutes on the books, can dramatically influence how a case should be handled. This is why it is so important to have an attorney with the knowledge and experience necessary to handle a case that may involve a hate crime. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

John M. Totten