A shooting in Phoenix over the weekend has all the earmarks of what most of us would consider a hate crime.  The incident began in Julioberto’s restaurant at about 3:00 a.m.  There were apparently two groups of people inside who began to exchange words.  Eventually, the dispute moved outside, and at that point one man allegedly made an anti-gay remark, although the report indicates that the remark was made to the restaurant cashier.  In any event, the report goes on to state that the man who made the remark left the area and retrieved a gun from his vehicle.  When he returned, he allegedly fired into the restaurant, shooting a woman in the hand.  In Arizona, the offense is aggravated assault, in this case a class 3 felony.  But the report says that what is alleged here is a “hate crime.”

What is a “hate crime” in Arizona?

The mention of a particular act as a hate crime might suggest that if you target a particular person because of his or her race, ethnicity, etc., or, as in this case, sexual orientation, you’ve committed a crime.  But the fact is that a hate crime is not a separate offense in Arizona. The phrase is used to describe the intent, or mental state, of the suspect, and what the law does is to create a harsher sentence for an underlying crime, when it is established that the suspect committed the offense because of “malice” toward the group in question.  Specifically, A.R.S. § 13-701A15 says that the court shall consider certain “aggravating circumstances” in determining the sentence of someone convicted of a crime; those circumstances include an offense committed by reason of malice because of a victim’s identity in certain a particular group (gay, religious, etc.).  It also covers situations in which the suspect “perceives” that the victim is a member of such a group.

What this means is that the punishment for a hate crime is really a punishment for prejudice.  The same act, intentionally committed, with the same result, could lead to an enhanced (harsher) sentence solely because the defendant was motivated by anti-gay beliefs or dislike/intolerance of some other protected group.

We’ll leave you with this thought:  In the recent case described above, the victim was arguably not a member of the group that the suspect allegedly targeted, i.e., gay people. In fact, she may have been an unintentional victim, perhaps having been shot by mistake.  Does the sentencing enhancement still apply to the assault committed against her?

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028

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CategoryAssault, Hate Crimes

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