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Hate Crime Law in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 17, 2022

Committing a Hate Crime Law - Penal Code 422.6 PC

People often think of civil rights violations committed by government actors such as police or governmental employees. When these violations take place, remedies include evidence suppression and civil lawsuits.

It is uncommon for a government actor to be criminally charged for a civil rights violation due to governmental immunity. However, when a private individual commits a civil rights violation, that individual can face criminal charges in California for interfering with someone's civil rights.

California law under Penal Code 422.6 PC prohibits the violation of another's civil rights. This law is also known as the hate crime statute. An individual's civil rights include any rights granted by the Constitution or any relevant and applicable law. California law prohibits interference of civil rights based on an individual's:

Hate Crime Law - Penal Code 422.6 PC
It's a crime to interfere with someone's civil rights based on their race, gender, nationality, etc.
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Sexual preference

California law also prohibits the interference of civil rights for the association with an individual or group that shares one of these characteristics. It is illegal for an individual to threaten by force or damage another's property to interfere with that person's civil rights or liberties.

An example can be someone defacing a church, mosque, or synagogue to frighten or prevent individuals from exercising their religions. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review this topic in more detail below in this article.

What is the Legal Definition of Penal Code 422.6 PC?

As noted, California Penal Code 422.6 PC, the hate crime statute, makes it illegal to interfere with someone's civil rights. It's legally defined as follows:

  • “(a) “Nobody, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere, oppress, or threaten anyone in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right secured to them by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
  • “(b) Nobody shall knowingly deface, damage, or destroy someone's property for the purpose of intimidating or interfering with the free exercise or enjoyment of any of their rights.”

Other crimes committed under this statute as known as hate crimes, defined under California Penal Code 422.55 PC. In other words, this law makes it a crime for someone to commit certain acts based on another person's gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or association with a group.

The certain acts listed include intimidation, interference, or willfully injuring someone in a manner that could prevent them from exercising their rights under the California Constitution, federal laws, and the U.S. Constitution. It's also a crime to damage or destroy someone's real or personal property to interfere with their constitutional rights.

What are the Potential Penalties for a Civil Rights Violation?

If an individual is convicted of a violation of Penal Code 422.6 PC, they face a misdemeanor conviction and can be sentenced to up to a year in jail. A judge can also order a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 400 hours of community service. A defendant could be ordered to serve summary probation instead of jail.

If the individual is guilty of committing a separate criminal offense, they can receive an enhanced penalty due to the additional criminal charge.

If the individual committed a felony as a hate crime, then the individual can receive an additional one, two, or three years in state prison as punishment by a judge. The judge could also impose more severe fines.

What Are the Related California Crimes?

In California, three state offenses are related to 422.6 PC; they are assault, battery, and disturbing a religious meeting:

  • Penal Code 240 PC - Assault. This California law prohibits the attempt to commit an injury or physical harm on another. This is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. This charge is also known as simple assault, as there are more serious forms of assault charges when serious injuries result, or weapons are used.
  • Penal Code 242 PC - Battery. This California law prohibits the harmful or offensive touching of another. This is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. This charge is also known as simple battery, as there are more serious forms of battery charges when serious injuries result, or weapons are used.
  • Penal Code 302 PC - Disturbing a religious meeting. This California law prohibits individuals from disturbing or disrupting a religious service or meeting. This is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

What Are the Related Federal Crimes?

Civil rights violations are allowed prohibited under federal law. The following are federal civil rights laws:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 241 - Conspiracy against rights,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 242 - Deprivation of rights under color of law
  • 18 U.S.C. § 245 - Federally protected activities,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 247 - Damage to religious properties,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 249 - Hate crime acts.

A violation of these federal laws can result in federal criminal charges and potential federal confinement.

What Are the Best Defenses?

For a prosecutor to secure a conviction against someone for a civil rights violation, it must be shown that the accused acted with a bias against a person or class of people in committing the offense charged.

Defending Civil Rights Violations
We can use several defense strategies to fight a hate crime or a civil rights violation allegation.

If the accused did not act with a bias, that could be a defense to a criminal charge. An accused can also claim that they were forced to commit the crime under duress or pressure from someone or something else. If the case is misidentifying, then a defendant can use that to defend a criminal charge.

It is important to individually assess and formulate a defense based on the facts and circumstances. If an accused was illegally arrested or evidence or statements were illegally obtained by law enforcement, these can be defenses in a civil rights violation case.  

In other words, perhaps the police lacked probable cause to arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We may negotiate with the prosecuting agency to reduce or dismiss the charge in some cases.

Further, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to persuade the prosecutor from filing formal criminal charges before the first court date, which is commonly referred to as a “DA reject.” Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County, and you can reach our law firm for an initial case review by phone or use our contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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