Hate Crime Defense in DC

Explore expert insights on hate crime defense in DC with Scrofano Law PC. Understand legal defenses, statutes, and your rights in the face of hate crime charges.

Introduction To Hate Crimes

Hate crimes typically involve committing a traditional crime with an added element of bias against a specific social group. These criminal offenses against a person or property are considered to be motivated in whole or in part by the defendant’s bias. 

In Washington, DC, hate crimes are taken very seriously and carry severe legal consequences. Hate crime enhancements can increase the maximum penalty by up to 1.5 times the maximum. Moreover, hate crimes are punishable both federally and under local DC laws. 

If you or someone you know is facing hate crime charges in DC, it is crucial to understand the laws and legal implications involved in hate crime defense. This article will provide an overview of hate crimes in DC, potential penalties, common defense strategies, and what to expect at each stage of the legal proceeding. 

If you are charged with a hate crime, you need an attorney with the necessary knowledge and experience to defend such a case. Scrofano Law PC focuses exclusively on DC criminal defense cases and stands ready to vigorously defend our clients. Our approach to criminal cases involves providing the highest possible quality of legal representation.

Understanding Hate Crimes in DC

Understanding what is and what is not a hate crime is essential. First, the underlying incident must be a crime. In other words, offensive speech is not a hate crime. However, a racially motivated assault could be considered a hate crime. 

Moreover, a hate crime is not a specific crime. DC law does not include a stand-alone hate crime. However, the DC Code creates an enhanced offense when a crime is bias-related (DC Code § 22-3701). If bias is a possible motive for a crime, it makes an enhanced penalty available to the court. It allows the judge to impose a higher sentence or fine.

Definition and Legal Framework

Hate crimes target individuals based on their actual or perceived:

    • Race
    • Disability
    • Religion
    • Sexual orientation
    • Ethnicity
    • Nationality
    • Gender and gender identity
    • Age 
    • Political affiliation

    The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC) enforces both federal and local hate and bias-related crime laws. The USAO-DC coordinates with law enforcement agencies and reviews bias-related offenses for prosecution. 

    If a potential hate crime occurs in the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will investigate it to determine the circumstances of the crime. If MPD has reason to believe that a perpetrator’s bias contributed to the crime, they will classify it as a “bias-related” crime and present this information to the USAO-DC for potential prosecution. 

    Specific Examples of Hate Crimes

    Hate crimes can take various forms, including:

    • Physical assault 
    • Rape 
    • Murder
    • Assault with a deadly weapon 
    • Harassment 
    • Vandalism 
    • Robbery
    • Attack on a home or place of worship

    These acts must be committed with the intent to target and harm someone based on their affiliation with a particular social group. For example, attacking someone in a bar fight may be charged as a simple assault. However, if the attack was motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race or sexual orientation, the assault would also be a hate crime.  

    Not all bias-related crimes are violent crimes. Federal blackmail and extortion cases can also be classified as bias-related. For instance, if the defendant selected their victims based on their sexual orientation and then blackmailed them or extorted money in exchange for silence, this could be considered a hate crime. 

    Furthermore, having an illegal firearm or explosive device in your possession and carrying it into the place of worship with the intent to commit a crime can also be considered a hate crime. The offender may also face a federal gun charge.

    Penalties for Hate Crimes

    If a person is found guilty of a hate crime, the court can punish the defendant with up to 1.5 times the maximum fine and imprisonment term for the underlying crime. 

    For example, if the underlying crime was an assault in DC, the defendant would face up to 180 days in jail and a potential fine of up to $1,000. But, with the hate crime enhancement, the defendant can face up to 270 days and/or a $1,500.00 fine. 

      Legal Defenses Against Hate Crime Charges

      If you are facing a hate crime charge, the defenses available will depend on your case’s specific facts and circumstances. Some typical defense strategies in hate crime cases include showing a lack of intent, mistaken identity, lack of evidence, self-defense, consent, and an alibi.

      Lack of Intent

      This defense strategy involves challenging the prosecution’s ability to prove the defendant’s intent to commit a hate crime. Demonstrating that bias did not motivate the act can significantly impact the outcome. 

      Mistaken Identity

      Another defense tactic is asserting mistaken identity. This involves emphasizing that the defendant was wrongly identified as the perpetrator. Providing evidence that casts doubt on the victim’s or police’s identification can create reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds. 

      Lack of Evidence

      Challenging the prosecution’s evidence is a common defense strategy in hate crime cases. This can involve questioning the reliability of witness testimonies, the collection and preservation of physical evidence, or any procedural errors that may have compromised the investigation’s integrity. 


      In some instances, defendants may argue that their actions were in self-defense, asserting that they acted out of fear for their safety or the safety of others. This defense strategy requires a careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the alleged hate crime. 


      Consent may serve as a defense in certain hate crime cases, particularly those involving sexual offenses. The alleged victim may have willingly participated in the activity or had given prior consent. 


      Proving an alibi is another defense strategy that can cast doubt on the defendant’s involvement in the hate crime. Providing evidence that the defendant was not present at the time of the offense can be crucial in establishing their innocence. 

      At Scrofano Law PC, we know that every case is unique. Our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers can evaluate your case and create a robust defense.

      Navigating the Legal System in DC


      When USAO-DC receives a potentially bias-related case, they have to consider the facts of the case and the law to determine whether a hate crime charge can be brought.

      The criminal process typically involves several stages: arrest, arraignment, pre-trial motions, trial, sentencing, and potential appeals. Most importantly, to establish a bias-enhanced offense under the DC Code, the USAO-DC must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the underlying crime because of prejudice or bias. 

      Your Rights as a Defendant

      Every defendant in a criminal case has several constitutional rights. These rights include:

      • The presumption of innocence;
      • The right to remain silent;
      • The right to confront witnesses;
      • The right to a jury trial;
      • The right to adequate legal representation.

      A defendant’s rights in hate crime cases and other criminal cases must be upheld throughout the legal proceedings. 

      Facing a Hate Crime Charge in the District of Columbia? Contact Us Today! 

      Hate crimes or bias-related crimes involve committing a crime against an individual based on their affiliation with a specific social group. This can include the alleged victim’s race, national origin, or political affiliation. 

      Being charged with any bias-related crime act can be terrifying and stressful. These crimes penalize defendants for their alleged personal biases.  

      If you are facing hate crime charges in Washington, DC, your freedom is at stake. Even if you are not guilty, this type of criminal investigation may change your life and significantly damage your personal and professional life. Working with a law firm you can trust and a skilled team of defense attorneys in Washington, DC, can benefit your case. 

      At Scrofano Law PC, we have successfully defended individuals charged with hate crimes. We will thoroughly investigate your case and craft a strong defense strategy. Contact us today to discuss your case.


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