Houman Fakhimi

Orange County Hate Crimes Drop - Save for Attacks on Homosexuals

Hate crimes in Orange County have plummeted, according to a new report by the county's Human Relations Commission.

However, Westminster Felony Criminal Defense Attorney Houman Fakhimi understands there is one glaring exception to this trend: attacks against homosexuals.

One recent example involves an alleged anti-gay hate crime carried out against a gay student on campus at the University of California Los Angeles in February. Officers say two men got out of a vehicle, approached the accuser, made anti-gay slurs and then threatened the individual with a knife. The student reportedly suffered bruises and scratches, but declined medical treatment.

According to the commission, overall hate crimes have dropped nearly 40 percent since 2006, from a peak of 101 that year to 61 in 2012.

Of those reported, the commission indicated, the most common victims were blacks and those perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Attacks on black individuals dropped by about 50 percent last year to a total of 13. One of those involved a black family in Corona who said they were forced to leave due to repeated acts of racism.

However, attacks on those based on sexual orientation spiked from 7 to 13.

Others who were targeted included Jews, Muslims and Latinos.

The incidents reported included mostly assaults and vandalism. In one case, there was a brick thrown through a window. In another case, there was a flower pot tossed through a window. In yet another case, an acid bomb was left in the driveway of another accuser.

One out of every overall three incidents involved a physical attack. Half of the incidents reported by gay and lesbian accusers involved a physical attack.

The commission suspects that the attacks could be propelled by the ongoing national discussion on gay marriage. Hate crimes against gays and lesbians in California decreased in 2008, following the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. However, the numbers went up again the following year.

What we also may be seeing, however, is an increase in reporting, or at least in the reporting of incidents as hate crimes. Keep in mind that just because a crime is perpetuated on an individual who is gay or minority does not mean that was the motivation behind it. That is an important distinction in terms of criminal defense.

Both California and federal law impose severe sanctions for crimes that are carried out against someone on the basis of a person's disability, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or perceived association with any one of these groups. Per California Penal Code 422.55, one of these would have to be a "substantial motivating factor" in order for someone to be prosecuted under this statute.

The first strategy for defense might be to explore avoidance of criminal liability altogether by arguing something like self defense or accident or false accusation or mistaken identity.

If, however, one of these defenses isn't possible, we would then explore proving that the offense was not motivated by a bias. For example, you may attack a person who is gay because you perceive vulnerability, but not necessarily because you have any animosity for the group to which he belongs.

In some cases, classifying a crime as a hate crime may allow prosecutors to bump up the charges from a misdemeanor to a felony, meaning that you would face substantially higher penalties.

That's why if you are accused of something like this - even if the underlying crime doesn't seem all that serious - you must immediately contact an experienced Westminster criminal defense attorney.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Westminster.

Additional Resources

O.C. hate crimes fall; attacks based on sexual orientation on the rise, May 23, 2013, By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times.