Last week, we laid out the basics of assault crimes: what can be considered assault in North Carolina, the different types of assault charges, and what penalties you may face if you are convicted of assault.
Let’s go back to the different types of assault charges for a second. Our state has very specific assault charges, including separate charges for castration, assaulting in a “secret manner,” and criminal use of a laser device. Many of these charges only come about if the act in question occurs against a specific demographic, such as women or children. When an assault is intentionally aimed at a specific group of people, it may be considered a “hate crime,” something that comes with more serious penalties.
Since the election of Donald Trump, hate crimes –including hateful graffiti – have been in the news quite a bit, and reports from the FBI show that hate crimes in Charlotte have spiked at disturbing rates. Just last week, news of a hate crime in Charlotte brought national attention to our state.
“White America” Note At Grocery Store Fire Turns Crime into Hate Crime
The Central Market is a Nepali Indian grocery store on Albemarle Road. In early April, the grocery store was targeted by someone who attempted to set fire to the building. A rock was also thrown through a window in the front door.
If this had been all there was to the incident, the suspect would only be wanted for criminal damage to property or attempted arson. However, the man who committed the crime also left a note for the grocery store that urged the owners to “go back where you came from.” It was signed “White America.”
Typically, the targets or victims are marginalized groups like people of color, the LGBT community, or people with disabilities. However, North Carolina wants to add another group of people to this list.
Assaults on Law Enforcement May Soon Be Considered a Hate Crime
If you assault a police officer in North Carolina, you will already see more serious consequences than you would for most assaults. Charges may start at an A1 misdemeanor, and can become felonies if the officer is physically injured or if a firearm is used during the incident.
Still, state lawmakers say that these penalties are not harsh enough, and have drafted HB181 and HB492 to further deter people from harming police officers and others. Both of these bills up the ante for assaulting a police officer or first responder (firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and so on). Not only will the charges start as a Class H felony, but the crimes will also be considered “hate crimes.” The suggested sentencing for this specific crime will also increase with HB492.
The label of “hate crime” doesn’t just throw the offender behind bars for a few more years. Hate crimes are watched and tracked by the FBI. Having your name on an FBI list is not something to take lightly.
This bill has not made its way to the governor yet. While supporters of the bill believe increasing penalties will prevent shootings targeted against officers, opponents worry that not all defendants will necessarily deserve the increased penalties. They argue that officers may confuse people having a mental breakdown with someone who has criminal intent, and punish them unfairly.
Law enforcement would be the first category of people to be considered targets of hate crimes based solely on their employment status. Keep a look out for the progression of these bills throughout North Carolina.
Have You Been Charged with a Hate Crime?
For now, assaulting an officer is only a misdemeanor. However, you may still be accused of a hate crime if you commit an illegal act against another person or group of people “motivated by biases based on race, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation and ethnicity.”
If the crime in question is assault, you may be able to use the defense strategies we provided last week for assault crimes. However, you will also need to defend against the claims that you were motivated by bias.
Prosecutors will try to dig up information about you, including social media postings and participation in questionable groups, in hopes of proving that you were motivated by bias. Because of this, if you are facing a hate crime, you need to be open and honest with your lawyer about anything in your past that may be used against you in court.
Want to learn more about defense strategies for other specific assault charges? Talk to a North Carolina defense lawyer today.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.