Hate and violent crimes based on cultural differences are huge matters in the news right now. Understandably, people are scared. They do not understand what might motivate certain acts of violence and what they can do to stay safe. 

A society can feel powerless following certain events, but we can all gain a sense of control and power through knowledge. Certain types of crimes have inspired a certain type of criminal classification: hate crimes. But what in Pennsylvania can be considered a hate crime?

A violent crime that occurred in Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving makes it timely to answer this question. Last week, a taxi driver who says he is Muslim claims that a passenger shot him while he was working. The Pittsburgh driver says that the suspect asked him about his background before the shooting took place. 

Now, news reports indicate that a Muslim civil rights group is asking the Justice Department to classify the violent crime as a hate crime. In order for that to happen, the following terms must be met:

  • A criminal act must have occurred, not simply something unpleasant.
  • The act must be motivated by bias or prejudice; the reason a suspect committed the act must be due to a supposed victim’s “real or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry.”

It is important to know these terms when accused of committing a hate crime because the classification can lead to more severe penalties should a charge result in a conviction. A next post will continue this conversation by discussing in more detail the types of crimes that can be classified as hate crimes, and also what a conviction might mean.