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Pittsburgh Hate Crime Attorney

Hate crimes in Pennsylvania and all across the U.S. have been on the rise in recent years. In fact, Pennsylvania has specific hate crime laws that protect all ethnic and religious groups from violent acts that are motivated by hatred or bias.

Our Pittsburgh hate crime attorney at SMT Legal explains that under Pennsylvania hate crime law, additional charges such as ethnic intimidation can be imposed in violent crimes that included homicide, murder, aggravated assault, arson, and other types of violent acts motivated by hatred toward a certain ethnic or religious group.

However, federal and state law protects not only from violent acts motivated by hatred toward ethnic and religious groups, but also violent acts based on the victim’s race, national origin, skin color, gender, disability, and sexual orientation.

Pittsburgh Hate Crime Attorney

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    What is and isn’t a hate crime?

    Some of you may wonder, “Where is there a line between committing a hate crime and exercising your right to free speech?” That’s a very good question that rattles in the minds of many prosecutors handling hate crime cases.

    Under the First Amendment, you have a right to freedom of speech, which means your opinion and personal beliefs are protected by law regardless of how hateful they are. However, when your words or actions cross the line and involve harassment, threats of bodily injury or harm, or result in actual harm to others, you can be charged with a hate crime if it is motivated by the victim’s protected characteristic.

    Laws that criminalize hate crimes

    Generally, there are three types of federal and state laws that protect U.S. citizens from hate crimes:

    • Laws prohibiting institutional vandalism (in Pennsylvania, is a crime to damage or deface a church, mosque, synagogue, or other places of religious worship)
    • Laws prohibiting hate crimes against people based on their membership in a specific group or protected class and
    • Laws that impose greater punishment when a crime has been committed because of the defendant’s bias against the victim

    Things to consider when in a hate crime case

    When it comes to building a strong criminal defense case when you are being accused of or prosecuted for a hate crime, our experienced hate crime attorney in Pittsburgh recommends considering the following factors:

    • Free speech: While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does protect your right to free speech, you cannot exercise this right if your conduct is motivated by bias or hatred based on the victim’s protected characteristic such as national origin, religion, skin color, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or any other. Even when your thoughts or speech is offensive and hateful, it can be protected by the First Amendment but only as long as it’s not biased against a certain group based on their protected characteristics.
    • Intent: Many lawyers and prosecutors tend to forget that not every crime committed against a gay person, Muslim, or African American is a hate crime. The defendant can be charged with a hate crime only if the crime was committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation, religion, or race. If there is no evidence to prove that the victim’s sexual orientation, religion, or race had anything to do with the crime, then you may be able to avoid aggravated penalties.
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    In order to be convicted of a hate crime in Pennsylvania, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed because of the victim’s race, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic protected by federal and state law. Contact our skilled criminal defense lawyers at SMT Legal to schedule a free consultation about your particular case. Call our offices at 412-765-3345.

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