Across the country, lawmakers have responded to a sharp rise in the number of hate crimes in recent years by passing historically significant hate crimes legislation. In New Jersey, the hate crime of “bias intimidation” was codified in the NJ criminal code to protect individuals against being threatened on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation, among other things. For anyone accused of a bias intimidation crime in New Jersey, they could be subject to significant penalties that include prison time. The best first step you can take if charged with a bias intimidation crime in Ocean County is to contact a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer who can build you a strong defense. Far more than your reputation is on the line when it comes to hate crime charges, and our attorneys at Proetta & Oliver understand the seriousness of the allegations and consequences you now face. We have successfully handled a multitude of criminal charges, including those for bias intimidation, against our clients in Ocean County and courts across the state of New Jersey. If you would like to consult an attorney about your bias charges out of Toms River, Brick, Berkeley Township, Jackson, Lakewood, Manchester, Long Beach Island, or another town at the Jersey Shore, contact our local Point Pleasant office at (848) 238-2100. The consultation is always free and a member of our firm is available 24/7 to best serve your needs.
What does Bias Intimidation Mean in New Jersey?
The law on bias intimidation in New Jersey is codified in N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1 of the NJ criminal code. As set forth by the statute, a person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if they commit, attempt to commit, conspire with another to commit, or threaten the immediate commission of a criminal offense with the purpose to intimidate an individual or a group of individuals because of their legally protected status. New Jersey prohibits acts of intimidation against all protected groups, including individual members with a specific race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
The statute also stipulates that a charge for bias intimidation may be appropriate if the victim reasonably believed that the offense was committed against them because of their protected status. This “reasonable person standard” means the defendant’s actual mindset or intent may not sufficiently matter when it comes to a charge and conviction, for bias intimidation. Moreover, N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1 makes it clear that a judge or jury can make a “permissive inference” that the defendant intended to intimidate the victim if there is proof that the defendant selected or targeted the victim because of the victim’s race, religion, gender, or other protected status. Mistakenly believing that someone was a part of a protected class is considered an invalid defense argument when charged with a hate crime of this kind.
Common Situations involving Bias Incidents in NJ
One of the most common situations that can lead to bias intimidation charges in New Jersey is bullying, whether it’s in a high school classroom, a college dorm, a workplace environment, or online via social media. In fact, cyber-harassment is a particular problem in a modern age when people may feel emboldened to say things on a computer that they might not otherwise say directly to a person in real life. If these online comments indicate that the person making the comments has an animus toward a particular person or group of people because of race, gender, or some other protected status, the cyber-harassment may rise to the level of bias intimidation.
Some of the most common criminal charges that are issued in conjunction with a bias intimidation charge include the following:
The underlying crime is what will trigger the initial criminal charges against the defendant, and then bias intimidation charges will likely follow if it can be shown that the defendant’s actions were motivated by the victim’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected class status. Also, keep in mind that New Jersey prosecutors typically overcharge bias intimidation offenses. This means that anyone accused of threatening a person on the basis of that person’s protected status is likely to face multiple criminal charges issued along with the bias intimidation charge. This is often done by prosecutors to increase their leverage in a bias intimidation case and get the defendant to either plead guilty to one of the more serious criminal charges or risk exposure to significant prison time if ultimately convicted at trial. You can access further information about the number of bias incidents in New Jersey, including a breakdown by individual municipalities, on the U.S. Department of Justice website.
New Jersey Hate Crime Punishment for Bias Intimidation
In all instances, bias intimidation is a felony-level offense in New Jersey. In fact, bias intimidation is always classified as at least a fourth degree crime. This means that it is an indictable offense and is handled in the county superior court, where the penalties are severe and may include prison time. Keep in mind that this is the minimum grading of a bias intimidation charge in New Jersey. Depending on the severity of the underlying offense, bias intimidation can be classified as a third degree crime, second degree crime, or first degree crime. Basically, a charge of bias intimidation has the effect of magnifying the criminal charges against the defendant and enhancing the possible penalties. For example, if a person is accused of vandalizing someone’s property because the individual belongs to a racial or ethnic minority, it is likely that the accused will be charged with a disorderly persons offense like criminal mischief. Ordinarily, a disorderly persons offense carries a maximum penalty of six (6) months in the county jail. However, since the case would involve vandalism directly related to a hate crime, the charges would be one degree higher. Instead of being charged with a disorderly persons offense, the defendant would face charges for a fourth degree crime and a conviction could result in a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison.
A defendant faces enhanced charges and penalties for bias intimidation.
The context of the hate crime elevates the level of the charges and the accompanying repercussions for those convicted. Here are some other examples of bias intimidation enhancing the possible charges and penalties in a New Jersey criminal case:
Petty disorderly persons offense leads to fourth degree charges
Disorderly persons offense results in fourth degree charges
Fourth degree offense becomes third degree charges
Third degree charges elevated to second degree charges
Second degree charges upgraded to first degree charges
First degree charges carry enhanced consequences with higher mandatory penalties
If the defendant is accused of committing a first degree crime, such as armed robbery, they would ordinarily face a maximum penalty of 10-20 years in NJ state prison. However, when one of these first degree charges involves an additional charge of bias intimidation, the penalties are enhanced: the maximum penalty becomes 15-30 years in prison. Moreover, there will be a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Additionally, the sentences for bias intimidation and the underlying offense do not merge. In other words, the sentences will run consecutively. This means that the defendant in a first degree robbery case could be required to serve 20 years in prison on the underlying robbery charge and another 20 years in prison on the bias intimidation charge. Ultimately, the total sentence would be 40 years behind bars. On top of significant prison time, the defendant in a New Jersey bias intimidation case may also be subject to additional penalties that include monetary fines, civil rights sensitivity training, anti-violence counseling, and community restitution.
Do You get Bail when Charged with a Bias Intimidation Offense?
NJ prosecutors take bias intimidation charges very seriously because these cases are often high-profile and can garner vast media attention. One effect of this is that prosecutors who file bias intimidation charges against a defendant are likely to also file for detention. What could this mean for you? Well, if you are charged with bias intimidation in New Jersey, you may also be ordered to remain in jail while you await trial. There will be no opportunity for you to post bail and secure your release before the criminal case has been resolved. Prosecutors often justify their request for detention by arguing that the defendant poses a safety risk to the community. This argument will typically be made at a detention hearing, which is the forum at which the judge in your bias intimidation case will make an initial determination about whether you should be detained by the State until trial. Having legal counsel representing you at your detention hearing is critically important because the consequences of losing the hearing could be dire. Learn more about detention hearings for Ocean County criminal charges by visiting our page dedicated to the subject and contact us now at (848) 238-2100 for a free consultation with a criminal defense lawyer who can advise you further.
Toms River NJ Attorney Can Help with Your Defense Against Bias Charges
Under New Jersey law, bias intimidation charges are filed in addition to the underlying criminal charges. This means that a person accused of bias intimidation will be subject to double penalties. Often, when a prosecutor files bias intimidation charges in New Jersey, they are unlikely to offer a favorable plea deal to the defendant. Due to the reality that hate crime cases tend to get a lot of publicity, handling these charges places an unusually large amount of pressure on the prosecutor to secure a conviction at trial. The bottom line is that you are going to need a talented criminal defense attorney on your side helping you to contest your bias intimidation charges in Ocean County, NJ. Please feel free to contact our local criminal law office at (848) 238-2100 for additional information regarding your bias intimidation case and defense options. We can assist with all types of related offenses, including terroristic threats, simple assault, harassment, aggravated assault, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Simply reach out requesting a free consultation and we are at your disposal.
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