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Understanding the legalities of Virginia's hate crime law

In today's difficult, polarized social climate, people throughout the nation are becoming more aware of the concept and prevalence of hate crimes, as well as how they can lead to various punishments. Even teens can find themselves dealing with allegations related to hate crimes. Even though people under 18 are frequently shielded from the harshest penalties, long-term consequences are a potentiality reality for those who are convicted of hate crimes.

A hate crime is an illegal act carried out due to biases on the part of the offender. Often, it is hard to determine motivation for a crime unless the accused individual openly stated it or took part in behaviors that made it clear that they were acting against another because of that person's religion, race, skin color, or national origin. In Virginia, a person who commits a criminal act against another person or the person's property with the intent to intimidate them because of their race, religion, or ethnicity, or commits the act in hopes of stopping the person from exercising Constitutional rights, will be considered to have committed a hate crime. An illegal act against an individual, group, or property because of one's religion, race, or national origin will also be considered a hate crime.

When a hate crime is suspected to have occurred, local law enforcement must report it to the state police. The penalties upon conviction for a hate crime depend on the specific offense committed. If, for example, if the act involved assault, the person can be charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies, meaning that a conviction could range from a relatively minor penalty to years in prison.

People who are arrested for a hate crime can face extensive problems in life if they are convicted. One of these convictions carries with it a stigma that can be hard to get beyond, especially if it is a juvenile who was arrested on the charges. For those who have been accused juvenile crimes that are deemed to be hate-related, having legal help is essential. Discussing a case with a lawyer who is experienced in defending clients charged with juvenile offenses may be critically important, as he or she may be able to help an accused individual develop criminal defense strategies that can assist in avoiding he harsh consequences that may be associated with a conviction.

Source: virginiarules.org, "Crimes Against Persons -- What is a hate crime?," accessed on Oct. 9, 2017

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