Broward County Hate Crime is Part of Rising Tide
A 47-year-old man faces serious criminal charges after he allegedly tore off a woman’s hijab then physically assaulted her.
According to an affidavit, after the man made an obscene gesture toward the woman and told her to “go back to her country,” he ripped off the victim’s hijab, then began to slap and punch her in the face, scratching her and causing her to bleed from the mouth. When Fort Lauderdale Police questioned the man, he was “unable to provide any details regarding the incident without losing track of his story,” the affidavit said.
The assault came two weeks after Israel declared war on Hamas after the massacre on Oct. 7. In the month since, the United States and the rest of the world have seen a surge in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents. The Council on American Islamic Relations has reported 774 incidents of bias and related complaints in the Muslim community between Oct. 7 and Oct. 24, or a nearly 200 percent jump over last year.
Some police investigations are open and shut. The arresting officer, or officers, saw the entire incident, from start to finish. Assault investigations are much different. The additional moving parts create opportunities for a Tampa assault and battery lawyer.
Under Florida law, the alleged victim in an assault case must only sustain a physical injury. That injury could be as slight as a red spot on an arm or a tiny scratch that didn’t break the skin’s surface.
More severe injuries, like a broken bone, make it easier for a prosecutor to prove the injury was intentional. Slight injuries could easily be accidental. Sometimes, the cat scratches people and individuals walk into doors.
At trial, a Tampa criminal defense attorney must only create a reasonable doubt as to the evidence. It doesn’t matter if the defendant “did it.” Moral guilt or innocence is irrelevant in criminal court.
However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before a battery case goes to court, investigators must confirm the alleged victim’s story and locate the correct suspect.
Frequently, although it probably wasn’t the case in the above story, the alleged victim and defendant were both drinking. Alcohol affects memory and recall. Sometimes, although once again it probably wasn’t the case in the above story, an alleged victim fabricates, or at least exaggerates, the facts so s/he gains an advantage in a civil proceeding, usually a divorce, or because s/he wants the defendant to get in trouble.
The suspect’s identity is often hard to establish. Many investigators rely on lineup identifications. If the lineup was single-blind (the witness didn’t know the suspect’s identity, but the administering officer knew), the lineup result is unreliable. Police officers often subtly encourage witnesses to pick the “correct” suspect.
Incidentally, there’s a difference between reliability and accuracy. A broken clock is accurate twice a day, but a broken clock is clearly unreliable.
Hate Crimes Enhancement
Section 775.085 typically kicks offenses up a notch. Second-degree misdemeanors become first-degree misdemeanors, first-degree misdemeanors become third-degree felonies, and so on.
Florida was one of the last states to enact a hate crimes enhancement, mostly because of concerns about such a statute’s constitutionality. “Hate” is not an element of a hate crime enhancement. Instead, Section 775.085 applies if the state proves the defendant targeted the victim because of the victim’s:
- National origin,
- Religion, or
- Sexual orientation.
In Florida and most other states, sexual orientation could also include gender identity in many cases.
The nature of the statue opens it up to misuse. Elder fraud is a good example. This offense is normally a misdemeanor. But prosecutors could use the hate crimes enhancement to move these charges up to felony charges. In this example,animus didn’t prompt the defendant to target older people. Instead, the defendant believed, rightly or wrongly, that older people are easier to fool.
Such misuse of the hat crimes enhancement clearly goes beyond its intended use and unfairly punishes defendants who didn’t “hate” anyone.
Contact a Dedicated Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.