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Hate Crimes & the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Connecticut COVID-19 Hate Crime Defense Attorneys

Connecticut Defense Attorneys Representing Clients in Hate Crimes Cases During the Coronavirus Emergency

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a rise in hate crimes and hate-crime allegations. It is important to understand what constitutes a hate crime under Connecticut state law. Hate crimes definitions are often vague, and there is often an uneven application of the law.  Further, not every hateful thing that is said is criminal, even if the hateful words are motivated by race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or any other protected class to which a person belongs. To be clear, even hate speech is protected in many circumstances, and it is essential for anyone charged with a hate crime in Connecticut to know that certain kinds of speech cannot be criminalized.

Rise in Hate Crime Allegations During the COVID-19 Emergency

Since the start of the COVID-19 emergency and the stay-at-home orders in Connecticut and across the country, news reports and law enforcement officials have noted a rise in hate speech and violence in certain cases against particular ethnic or racial groups. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), when reports emerged in January of 2020 that the coronavirus originated in China, commentators began to note “surging reports of xenophobic and racist incidents targeting members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the U.S.”

Language and actions motivated by xenophobia and racism were reported to take many different forms. In some instances, according to the ADL, Asian Americans experienced harassment on the streets, in other public spaces, and in public transit vehicles, facing racist language like “go back to China” or language that suggested Asian Americans had “brought the virus” into the country. Yet many Asian Americans reported actions beyond speech, such as “being spat on or physically assaulted.” The ADL cited a variety of incidents across the country including businesses displaying signs prohibiting Chinese customers, the use of racist slurs and racist graffiti, and assaults on Asian Americans.  The assaults ranged from someone slapping a phone from an Asian woman’s hand, to Asian Americans having drinks thrown on them and even facing physical violence. In total, the ADL has recorded nearly 100 incidents involving racism against Asian Americans tied to COVID, from hate speech to acts of physical violence.

A variety of similar incidents have been reported specifically in Connecticut. Indeed, according to an article in The Day, Connecticut residents of Asian descent have reported incidents that have ranged from verbal harassment to physical assaults.

Hate Crimes Laws in Connecticut and Their Application

Do all of the incidents described above constitute a hate crime? Under Connecticut law, it is often difficult to know precisely what constitutes a hate crime because of the inconsistent ways in which existing laws have been applied.

Generally speaking, Connecticut has a number of statutes that criminalize hate crimes and allow injured parties to seek monetary damages. The following are the major types of hate crimes laws that exist in the state:

  • Intimidation Based on Bigotry or Bias Crimes: These crimes can be charged in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree, depending upon the specific facts of the case. Under this law, “certain actions that intimidate or harass another person because of his or her actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression” are unlawful.
  • Deprivation of Rights, Desecration of Property, and Cross Burning: In Connecticut, it is unlawful to deprive a person of their rights due to their actual or perceived race or inclusion in another protected class. It is also unlawful to intentionally desecrate certain property, as well as to place a burning cross or a noose or simulation of a noose on another person’s property.
  • Deprivation of a Person’s Civil Rights By Person Wearing a Mask or a Hood: The penalties for one of the above-mentioned crimes becomes more severe if the alleged perpetrator is wearing a mask or a hood.
  • Ridicule on Account of Race, Creed, or Color: It is unlawful in Connecticut to ridicule a person because of their creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality, or race.
  • Deprivation of a Person’s Equal Rights and Privileges by Force or Threat: It is unlawful to use force or threats to deprive a person of their rights, which can involve threatening to commit a violent crime or placing a person in imminent fear of serious physical injury.

Hate Crimes in Connecticut Are Unevenly Applied

While Connecticut has a wide variety of hate crime laws, an article in the Hartford Courant explains that they are inconsistently applied. The article cites three distinct situations in which a person exhibited “racist and hateful attitudes” toward another person on the basis of race, yet the laws were applied differently in the cases. According to Professor Doug Spencer of the University of Connecticut Law School, some of the Connecticut hate laws may be unconstitutionally vague.

Indeed, as he explained, the “First Amendment protects against laws that suppress speech based on its content and/or its viewpoint,” while the “14th Amendment protects against laws that are so vague police and prosecutors have unfettered discretion to criminalize speech they disagree with, and that are so overbroad they criminalize behavior that is clearly acceptable.”

Accordingly, a person charged with a hate crime under Connecticut law may be able to use one of the following defenses:

  • The law under which they are charged is unconstitutionally vague
  • The law is unconstitutionally overbroad
  • The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the type of speech for which you are facing a hate crime charge
  • The speech or action for which you were charged was not motivated by bias, bigotry or hatred

Reach Out to Us Today for COVID-19 Hate Crime Defense

At Duffy Law, we know how important it is to have an experienced defense lawyer on your side when you are facing criminal charges of any type. Given that hate crimes cases have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is particularly important to understand your rights under state and federal law, and to work with an attorney to build a strong defense to the charges you are facing. Our New Haven criminal defense attorneys can discuss your case with you today and can begin working on potential defense strategies. Contact Duffy Law online or call our firm at (203) 946-2000 to learn more about how our team can assist you.

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