A recent tragedy in Chapel Hill has quickly become a source of controversy around the globe. Last month, 46-year-old Craig Hicks was charged with shooting and killing three Muslims—a husband, wife, and the wife’s sister. The shootings sparked concerns that the violence may have been motivated by race and religion.
According to Hicks, the shootings were motivated by an argument over parking. However, the family of the victims’ believe his actions constituted a hate crime. According to the sister’s father, Hicks had frequently harassed the girls for being Muslims and wearing head scarves. What is alleged to be Hick’s Facebook page was found with comments attacking religion.
Chapel Hill police maintain they have not found any evidence that the violence was motivated by hate. However, the FBI is now conducting an investigation into the event to determine whether any federal hate crime laws were violated. If the murder is found to be a hate crime, additional hate-crime enhancements may be added to the charges.
To prove that a hate crime occurred, prosecutors must provide convincing evidence that Hicks murdered the women because of their race, religion, or nationality.
What Constitutes a Hate Crime in North Carolina?
Though the North Carolina criminal justice system doesn’t have any laws that specifically address murder hate crimes, our local legal systems do have laws in place prohibiting acts of ethic intimidation—such as hanging a noose or burning a church. However, some murderous hate crimes may fall under federal hate-crime laws, which give local prosecutors the ability to bring federal charges for crimes prompted by religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and race. Last year, thousands of individuals were arrested for hate crimes in North Carolina and the rest of the country.
In simple terms, a hate crime is a criminal offense motivated by prejudice against race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. These crimes are typically to be considered much more serious than nearly identical crimes not motivated by hate, and may be penalized much more harshly.
There are a variety of criminal behaviors that result in a hate crime charge in North Carolina and the rest of the country. Below, we’ve included a list of signs that law enforcement officials look for to determine whether a hate crime has been committed.
Evidence of bias. A prosecutor may try to uncover evidence of your bias against a victim’s ethnic or religious background or sexual orientation, such as written or oral comments that could be construed as prejudice.
Date significance. If your actions against a victim occurs on a day that coincides with a date that is significant to their culture or protected, class, this could be used as evidence that the crime was motivated by hate. For instance, you could be charged with a hate crime for assaulting someone of African descent on Martin Luther King Day, or vandalizing an Asian grocery on Chinese New Year.
Organized hate group activity involvement. A prosecutor may investigate other organized hate group activity in your area, and look for ties between you and such groups to suggest evidence of a hate crime.
Hate crime cases can become very serious very quickly. In some cases, you may be accused of a hate crime without even realizing a victim was of a certain protected class. Regardless of the circumstances, someone accused of a hate crime charge faces both state and federal penalties and requires an aggressive defense. If you have been charged with this type of crime, it’s critical to consult with a top North Carolina criminal defense attorney with a track record of success as soon as possible.
About the Author
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.