Understanding Colorado’s Hate Crimes

What Exactly Is a Hate or Bias Motivated Crime? What Does the Hate Crime “Tag” Mean?

Hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.

“Hate crime” generally refers to criminal acts that are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the types above, or of their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters (hate mail).

Here in Colorado – the Hate Crimes Law is as Follows:

Colorado Hate Crimes Law CRS § 18-9-121

Statute text

  1. The general assembly hereby finds and declares that it is the right of every person, regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, harassment, and physical harm caused by the activities of individuals and groups. The general assembly further finds that the advocacy of unlawful acts against persons or groups because of a person’s or group’s race, color, ancestry, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation for the purpose of inciting and provoking bodily injury or damage to property poses a threat to public order and safety and should be subject to criminal sanctions.
  2. A person commits a bias-motivated crime if, with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation, he or she:
    1. Knowingly causes bodily injury to another person; or
    2. By words or conduct, knowingly places another person in fear of imminent lawless action directed at that person or that person’s property and such words or conduct are likely to produce bodily injury to that person or damage to that person’s property; or
    3. Knowingly causes damage to or destruction of the property of another person.
  3. Commission of a bias-motivated crime as described in paragraph (b) or (c) of subsection (2) of this section is a class 1 misdemeanor. Commission of a bias-motivated crime as described in paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section is a class 5 felony; except that commission of a bias-motivated crime as described in said paragraph (a) is a class 4 felony if the offender is physically aided or abetted by one or more other persons during the commission of the offense.

    1. In determining the sentence for a first-time offender convicted of a bias-motivated crime, the court shall consider the following alternatives, which shall be in addition to and not in lieu of any other sentence received by the offender:
      1. Sentencing the offender to pay for and complete a period of useful community service intended to benefit the public and enhance the offender’s understanding of the impact of the offense upon the victim;
      2. At the request of the victim, referring the case to a restorative justice or other suitable alternative dispute resolution program established in the judicial district pursuant to section 13-22-313, C.R.S.
    2. In considering whether to impose the alternatives described in paragraph (a) of this subsection (3.5), the court shall consider the criminal history of the offender, the impact of the offense on the victim, the availability of the alternatives, and the nature of the offense. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the court to impose the alternatives specified in paragraph (a) of this subsection (3.5).
  4. The criminal penalty provided in this section for commission of a bias-motivated crime does not preclude the victim of such action from seeking any other remedies otherwise available under law.
  5. For purposes of this section:
    1. “Physical or mental disability” refers to a disability as used in the definition of the term “person with a disability” in section 18-6.5-102 (3).
    2. “Sexual orientation” means a person’s actual or perceived orientation toward heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status.
How Often are There Allegations of Bias Motivated Crime?

As a practical matter, the hate crime enhancement is used very rarely. Obviously, even the connotation of a “hate crime” evokes emotion, passion, and politics, and usually both sides of a criminal matter want to avoid these factors if possible. If you get caught up in a prosecution and receive notice of a sentencing enhancement under these laws, make sure your lawyer knows what to do.

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