A recent article reported on an attack that took place this month in Scottsdale. The victim says he was stabbed while the defendant called him the n-word over and over. The title of the piece says that there are those who want the attack to be labeled a “hate crime.” The article also refers to a statement by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who is quoted as saying that there is no hate crime statute in Arizona. To the casual observer, this is confusing at best. So, who is right? Should the stabbing be labeled a hate crime? Is that even possible in Arizona? Let us explain.
As a technical matter, Bill Montgomery is correct. There are no specific hate crimes in Arizona independent of, for example, assault, or some other violent or aggravated offense. And the term “hate crime” is not defined in Title 13 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. On the other hand, saying there is no state hate crime law is like saying there is no domestic violence law. What we mean is that domestic violence is defined legally in Arizona as one of numerous crimes (assault, etc.), coupled with a family or similar relationship. As in the case of bias crimes, it is an add-on to an existing offense.
If you assault your spouse, you can, of course, be charged with assault. The fact that it took place in a domestic violence context does not necessarily increase the length of the potential sentence (absent prior offenses), although you can be required to complete a treatment program. But what about “hate crimes.” Does it matter under Arizona law whether you are attacked because you are black, or gay, or Hispanic? The answer is that it definitely does matter, and a finding of that fact can lead to additional time behind bars.
A.R.S. 13-701 lays out some of the rules on sentencing in felony cases. Subsection D15 talks about crimes motivated by malice because of a victim’s (actual or perceived) race, religion, color, disability or sexual orientation, among others. The law says that in that case, the motivation is an “aggravating circumstance” for purposes of sentencing. It can therefore lead in some cases to a longer sentence for the defendant than might be imposed absent the malice.
Beyond the fact that proof of malice has implications for sentencing under Arizona law, a hate crime is a specific offense under federal law (18 U.S.C.A. § 249). It is punishable in most cases by up to 10 years in prison.
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