In New Jersey, the potential consequences for a number of crimes can be greater if the victim of the crime was targeted because they belong to a protected class. Specifically, a charge of “bias intimidation” can be added to any other charge(s) filed against someone. The term “bias intimidation” in New Jersey is comparable to what are more commonly referred to by some states as well as the federal government as “hate crimes.”
New Jersey law defines bias intimidation as threatening or committing an offense (or attempting or conspiring to commit an offense) “with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.”
An underlying crime is required
A bias intimidation charge requires an underlying crime. It can be a property crime, like damaging or defacing someone’s property. It can also be a violent crime, like assaulting someone. That doesn’t mean that any crime committed against a person who belongs to a protected class is a crime of bias intimidation. However, if it’s reasonable to believe that the victim was targeted because of their identity, that charge would apply.
Some obvious examples would be if a person’s home is defaced with anti-Semitic or racist language or if several people coming out of a bar are beaten up while homophobic slurs are hurled at them (whether they are gay or not). It’s the assumption of identity – whether it’s accurate or not – that matters.
Many cases aren’t so obvious. People may assume they were targeted because of their gender, age, disability or other protected identity when, in fact, they weren’t.
The charges for a bias intimidation crime vary based on the underlying crime. It’s charged “one degree higher than the most serious underlying crime,” unless it’s what New Jersey calls a disorderly persons offense. Then, it’s a fourth-degree crime.
A bias intimidation charge added to any other charge can make the consequences considerably more serious than they already would have been. It’s also not something that looks good on anyone’s criminal record. That’s why if you’re facing a bias intimidation charge, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance to protect your rights and work to mitigate the consequences.