A bill passed in Washington is expanding the state’s definition of a hate crime and strengthens the ability to prosecute those crimes. Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5623 into law on April 6 after it was passed with overwhelming support in the House and Senate earlier this year.
“This bill takes the common sense step of recategorizing hate crimes as crimes against a person and also provides our communities with the justice they deserve in the wake of these traumatic crimes.” ~
Senator Manka Dhingra sponsored the legislation. She states that Hate Crime offenses are reclassified as crimes against persons. The bill also replaces the phrase “physical injury” with “assault” in the definition of Hate Crime to account for more situations. Assaults that are meant to intimidate and demean, like spitting on someone, will now be grounds for prosecution as a Hate Crime.
ESB 5623 modifies the conduct that constitutes a Hate Crime offense to include when a person maliciously and intentionally assaults a victim because of the person’s perception of certain characteristics about the victim. Including the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or disability.
SB 5623 will allow courts to impose therapeutic treatment for offenders meant to rehabilitate them. This is something that the victims of hate crimes often ask for in court. The bill also expands the definition of a hate crime. Right now, assaults have to result in a physical injury for it to be considered a hate crime.
Under the new bill, assaults that are meant to intimidate or demean but don’t result in injury can be considered a hate crime. An example of that would be spitting on someone. Supporters of the bill say hate crimes are corrosive to society and make communities feel unwelcome.
In Washington state, there were more than 500 hate crimes committed against a person in 2021, according to the Department of Justice. Their data shows the biggest motivators of hate crimes are largely race and ethnicity, followed by sexual orientation and then religion.
If prosecuted for a Hate Crime offense, the trier of fact may infer that a person intended to threaten a victim if the person committed one of the following acts:
- Burns a cross on the property of a victim who is or whom the person perceives to be of African American heritage.
- Defaces the property of a victim who is or whom the person perceives to be of Jewish heritage by defacing the property with a swastika.
- Defaces religious real property with words, symbols, or items that are derogatory to persons of the faith associated with the property.
- Places a vandalized or defaced religious item or scripture on the property of a victim who is or whom the person perceives to be of the faith with which that item or scripture is associated.
- Damages, destroys or defaces religious garb or other faith-based attire belonging to the victim or attempts to or successfully removes religious garb or other faith-based attire from the victim’s person without the victim’s authorization.
- Places a noose on the property of a victim who is or whom the person perceives to be of a racial or ethnic minority group.
Words alone do not constitute a Hate Crime offense unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat. Threatening words do not constitute a Hate Crime offense if it is apparent to the victim that the person does not have the ability to carry out the threat.
A Hate Crime offense is a class C felony and is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years of imprisonment, a $10,000 fine, or both. In addition, the victim of a Hate Crime offense may bring a civil cause of action against the perpetrator. Claims can include actual damages, punitive damages of up to $100,000, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
The bill will go into effect this summer, on July 23.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.