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The distinction between traditional offenses and hate crimes

Accusations of murder, assault, rape and other violent criminal offenses are extremely serious, with long-term consequences regardless of guilt or innocence. In Wisconsin, the threat of violence often leads to harsh penalties upon conviction. When an element of hate is part of the allegation, the charges can require a higher level of defense to defeat.

In 2009, the latest data available, there were 63 incidents of hate crime reported in our state. Hate crimes aren't distinct crimes. They are traditional criminal offenses such as assault, murder and so on that are motivated by the perpetrator's bias against race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnic origin, religion or nationality. These reported occurrences were committed by 79 offenders against 72 victims. They occurred mostly in alleys, streets or parking lots. Vandalism, intimidation and simple assault offenses were noted most often, and 59 percent of the crimes were racially motivated that year.

The Wisconsin crime reporting agency compiling data categorizes offenses three ways: crimes against persons, crimes against property and crimes against society. When looking at the hate crimes in the subject study, we note that 46 percent of them were committed against individuals, 51 percent against property and only three percent against society.

Similarly, aggravated assaults made up the majority of traditional violent crimes reported in 2012 with a rate of 280 for every 100,000 Wisconsin residents. Personal weapons – hands, fists and feet – were used in 41 percent of the incidents. That year, 166 persons were murdered in our state, the highest rate since 2006. Thirty-one percent of the killings took place as a result of or during arguments, but in a third of the cases, no motivation was determined.

Hate itself is not a crime. Civil rights must be protected when a defendant faces any criminal charges, and motivation clarity will be a relevant defense factor in any prosecution.

Source: Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, "Hate Crime in Wisconsin 2009," accessed June 12, 2015

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