Understanding Hate Crimes in Massachusetts

Massachusetts defines hate crimes under statutory law in 3 main categories:

  • Morality
  • Personal
  • Property

Each criminal category has specific definitions and punishments upon a conviction for violating the law.

Hate Crimes Against Morality

In general, Massachusetts has laws which are criminal if they are found to offend the public morality, decency or sense of “good order.”

Under M.G.L. c. 272, § 92A, a hate crime can be established whenever an agent or employee of a public place posts or distributes any material or notice that discriminates against persons based on:

  • religious sect
  • creed (beliefs)
  • class
  • race
  • color
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity

Discrimination under this section means a proprietor attempts to prohibit the individuals from entering or enjoying the full benefits of the establishment.

If a defendant pleads or is found guilty under this law, the offense is a misdemeanor and the penalty is a fine of up to $100, or jail up to 30 days, or both.

Hate Crimes Against Property

It is a hate crime for anyone to willfully damage, deface or destroy a

  • Church
  • Synagogue
  • Burial place, or any
  • Properties owned/controlled by a church or synagogue.

The law also makes it a hate crime to threaten to burn or deface or otherwise damage a church or synagogue.

Misdemeanor Penalties

If convicted of threatening to burn down or damage a church or synagogue, the punishment is a fine of up to $1,500, or jail time up to one year; or both.

A defendant who is found guilty of intentionally damaging a church or synagogue will face harsh punishments at sentencing that can include:

  • The greater of
    • Up to $2,000 Or
    • 3X the value of damages
  • Incarceration up to 2.5 years;
  • Or both fine and jail time.

Felony Penalties

If the damages caused under this offense are proven to be over $5,000, a conviction will be a felony and the punishment can be:

  • 3X the value of damages caused
  • Prison time up to 5 years, Or
  • Both prison time and restitution.

Hate Crimes Against Persons

Personal crimes mean the law as written involves physical actions or behaviors that harm a person directly.

It is a misdemeanor bias (or hate) crime to commit an assault or physical battery upon a person because of that person’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Disability
  • or Gender Identity

The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the act of aggression with the “intent to intimidate” the victim solely because of bias against one of the above groups.

Misdemeanor Penalties

If convicted, the offender faces up to a $5,000 fine, or up to 2.5 years in jail, or both jail time and the fine.

If personal property is damaged under this law, the court can also order restitution to the victim equaling 3x the value in damages.

Felony Penalties

Bodily Injury –If it is proven that an offender committed a bias hate crime that resulted in bodily injury to another, upon conviction the punishment is:

  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Up to 5 years in prison, or
  • Both prison and fine.

A judge can sentence up to 10 years in state prison on a conviction for the above crime when a firearm or other assault weapon is used.

Students and others should also know that all authorities, including campus police, are required by law to report any offense with perceived bias indicators to the Massachusetts Crime Reporting Unit.

If You Have Been Charged

If you have been charged in Massachusetts for a bias-based hate crime, you need to hire a strong criminal defense lawyer with proven litigation experience as soon as possible.

These are very serious offenses in the commonwealth. Your freedom and your future are at stake. An experienced, aggressive attorney will investigate all elements of the charges, including any witnesses, to develop a defensible case strategy.

Several options may be available to reach the best outcome in your case, such as a full dismissal, lesser sentencing, and / or probation. Contact my law office for a consultation on your case today: 978-452-1116

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Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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