In a recent news conference, reported on by the Washington Post, Mark R. Herring, Virginia’s attorney general stated that hate crimes are on the rise in Virginia. He also announced that the definition of hate crimes in the state will be expanded. Herring stated that hate crimes will now include offenses against individuals based on sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity. Currently, the law only mentions “racial, religious, or ethnic animosity.”
Hate Crimes in Virginia
In 2015, there were 155 hate crimes in Virginia. This is an increase of 21 percent from the year before. Of the 155 of these reported hate crimes, 71 were classified as assaults, 82 were related to racial bias, 23 on religious bias, and 22 on sexual orientation.
Understandably, hate crimes often involve a lot of vitriol and legally complex issues, usually relating to free speech. However, courts have consistently put limits on free speech protections when the lines between speech and threats become blurred. For example, a man from Franklin County, Virginia was convicted of a Class 6 felony in June of 2015, after hanging a noose and a life-sized dummy, with a dark ski mask for a head, from a tree in his yard in an apparent attempt to intimidate his neighbors who are black. While the man disputed the ruling on the grounds that it violated his first amendment rights and whether the display was even in a public place. In the end, the appeals court rejected this argument and concluded that hanging the noose was a ‘threat’ and didn’t deserve protection. Additionally, the court noted that despite having the display in his own yard, it should be considered a ‘public place’ because it was clearly visible and obviously meant to communicate a threat
Changes to Hate Crimes in Virginia
In order to provide the state with even more options to combat and prosecute hate crimes, the new hate crime bills will give the attorney general’s office the opportunity to use grand juries in order to prosecute these types of crimes. This type of offense is not currently specified in Virginia’s grand jury statute.
During the news conference, Herring also revealed the launch of NoHateVa.com, a new website that provides information and community resources for individuals who are either victims of hate crimes or simply concerned about them. Herring explained that although great progress has been made in recent decades, too many Virginians have been mistreated because of who they are.
The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice has played a vital role in protecting Virginians and Americans from discrimination and hate. Herring is hopeful that this tradition will be continued by the new administration. However, he is concerned.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance mirrored Herring’s concern. He believes that it is now the state’s responsibility to protect minority communities. Moline stated that rather than attacking individuals, hate crimes attack entire communities in order to instill fear in the members of a given group. He commends Herring’s efforts to set a national standard for the prevention of hate crime while protecting Virginians.
Consult Roanoke Hate Crimes Attorney at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico
The climate surrounding hate crimes is certainly complex and for those accused, the impact of a conviction can be life-shattering. At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, our goal is to protect your rights and craft an effective defense strategy so you are prepared for whatever comes your way.
If you have been charged with an offense in Roanoke or anywhere in Virginia that involves violating the rights of someone based on their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity, you owe it to yourself to consult with a highly skilled Roanoke hate crimes attorney.
Review your options and begin working towards a positive resolution. Call us at (540) 343-9349 for a free and confidential case consultation.