What Is the Difference Between Assault and a Hate Crime?
When someone intentionally harms another person or commits a criminal act against them, they are typically charged with assault. However, there are instances where an assault may be a hate crime, especially if the motivation for the criminal act was race, color, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Getting charged with a hate crime is very serious. If convicted you will face enhanced penalties. So if you have been arrested for an alleged hate crime, you must contact an attorney as soon as possible.
What Is an Assault?
Every state has its definition of what constitutes assault and battery. In New Mexico, assault does not have to include physical contact; so you could be arrested and charged for assault without ever touching the alleged victim.
Any threatening conduct or intentional harm to another person may be considered assault. Even a joke that makes the victim feel threatened could constitute assault.
You could threaten someone that you will physically hurt them or pretend to swing at them with no intention of making contact – and still be arrested even if contact was never made. Now, if the victim reasonably knew you were joking and had no intention of actual harm, then the same would not apply.
Assault in New Mexico is a petty misdemeanor if you have no aggravating factors (e.g., being charged with a hate crime). Simple assault, depending on the case, can be a more severe charge. And assault with the intent to commit a violent crime is a third-degree felony; therefore, it is not a “minor” charge in the slightest.
What Is the Penalty for Assault?
If convicted of assault in New Mexico, you face various levels of punishment depending on the specific charge you receive and whether there were mitigating factors.
For simple assault:
- Up to six months in jail
- Probation for up to six months
- A fine of up to $500
What Is a Hate Crime?
A hate crime in New Mexico is any criminal act that is influenced by a person’s gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or another discriminatory factor.
Hate crimes are often associated with assault charges. It is common for someone to be assaulted because of some type of prejudice against that person – which makes that assault or battery a hate crime. If the prosecution can show beyond a reasonable doubt that you were motivated by any of the listed factors, then you will receive an enhanced penalty if convicted.
The enhanced penalty depends on the original charge. But it will include longer prison or jail sentences, higher fines, and lengthier probation periods. Also, if you are charged with a felony, you will have a permanent criminal record that could prevent you from receiving federal aid, housing, or even getting a job.
The State Uses Hate Crimes to Set Examples for the Public
One of the dangers of being charged with a hate crime is that even though you did not commit your crime because of a discriminatory reason, the prosecution may set out to use you as an example to the public. Hate crimes are taken seriously around the country; so judges and prosecutors are aggressive at handing out the maximum sentence possible for those charged with hate crimes.
As you can see, if charged with a such a crime, you need an attorney that can present your defense and protect your rights.
What Defenses Could You Use?
Whether you are facing an assault charge or an enhanced charge that includes the allegations of a hate crime, you do have defense options. Naturally, you should consult with an attorney to explore your defense strategies and see which apply to your case.
Some defenses an attorney might use include:
- Insufficient Evidence – One of the most used defense strategies is having the case dismissed for insufficient evidence. After all, the burden is on the prosecution to show that you committed an assault or hate crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If there are too many holes or too much evidence missing in your case, the judge may dismiss the charges, or the prosecution may agree to a lesser charge.
- Factual Innocence – You might be entirely innocent. Even if you are, you need an attorney. In fact, you need an attorney especially if you are innocent. Sometimes people falsely accuse another person of assault or hate crimes to get back at them, such as an upset spouse, family member or friend. Regardless, you need an attorney to collect the evidence and argue for your innocence in court.
- Not Motivated by Target Group – To lessen your charges or the chance of facing a felony conviction, your attorney can work to prove that the assault was not motivated by targeting a specific race, gender, or another discriminatory factor. If there is no evidence that discrimination motivated you, then the prosecution cannot charge you with a hate crime.
- Mistaken Identity – Sometimes, an assault or hate crime case hinges solely on the victim’s identification. If you were in a line-up, your attorney can question that line-up and work to prove that you were mistaken for the real assailant.
- Self Defense – Sometimes assault is self-defense. If you can show that you were defending yourself or a loved one and doing so against a tangible threat, your attorney may be able to get the assault charges dropped against you.
- Negotiate a Lesser Charge – Sometimes your attorney can work with the prosecution to receive a lesser charge in exchange for your testimony, which means lower fines and less jail time. This is especially important if you are facing a felony and your attorney can negotiate down to a misdemeanor.
- Immunity – In some cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate protection if you can offer evidence for another higher-level case the prosecutor is working on.
- Protecting You from a Maximum Sentence – Even if you are guilty, you should not have to serve the maximum. Your attorney can argue for lesser sentencing, good behavior, and show your ties to the community so that you may receive probation earlier or a shorter jail sentence overall.
Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested for assault or you are being accused of a hate crime, speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately.
The team at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices is here for you. We are aggressive and do not rest until our clients receive the best possible outcome in their case. Schedule your consultation today at 505-375-4764 or request an appointment online.