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When a Criminal Offense becomes a Hate Crime

The small Gulf town of Portland, Texas, near Corpus Christi, found itself in the national news yesterday, June 26, as major news sources reported the weekend shooting of two teenage women, ages 18 and 19, from the area. (ABC News; CBS News; CNN) One woman was found already dead, and the other woman is in stable but critical condition. Among their friends and others in the community, the two teens were known to be dating, which caused many news organizations to question if the teens were shot as a hate crime.

While law enforcement officers believe the couple was targeted by the shooter, the Corpus Christi Caller reports that the crime is not being investigated as a hate crime. According Portland Police Chief Randy Wright, there is no evidence that the shooting had anything to do with the teenagers’ romantic relationship.

Defining Hate Crimes

While the shooting in Portland is not currently being investigated as a hate crime, the case shows that even the speculation that a crime was motivated by prejudice arouses much negative public attention and media hype. What does this type of publicity mean for defendants, and when does a crime become a hate crime?

The FBI defines a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” This means that a crime against a person, property, or society may be labeled a hate crime if the offense was “motivated in whole or in part by an [alleged] offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.” The FBI goes on to explain that “hate itself is not a crime,” and that it is important to protect freedom of speech, which gives people the right to express dislike, or hate, in non-criminal ways.

Similar to being accused of a sex offense, being accused of a hate crime can significantly stigmatize a defendant. Prosecutors, jurors, and the general public are likely to view an alleged hate crime with particular distaste, and defendants must fight the powerful preconception that they are dangerously prejudiced or intolerant within the community. An experienced criminal defense attorney can effectively handle these challenging and emotionally-charged cases.

Seek Advice & Representation from Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in the Gulf region of Texas, please contact the criminal defense attorneys at McLemore, Reddell, Ardoin & Story, P.L.L.C. in Houston for a free initial consultation. We have experience handling violent crime cases, as well as charges related to DWI, domestic violence, white collar crimes, drug crimes, and sex offenses.