In Colorado, assault is prosecuted rigorously, with first-degree assault incurring penalties that can include decades in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. When assault in Colorado involves biased motivation against a group of people, perpetrators are potentially looking at being charged with a hate crime, which comes with even harsher penalties than standard assault charges. 

What are the shades of difference between assault and hate crime? Can a person have hate crime charges pinned on them because they assaulted someone who happened to belong to a marginalized class? What sorts of defenses exist when a person is accused of a hate crime? 

The lawyers at Joyner Law have helped guide many clients through criminal accusations, and in this blog we will review how Colorado defines and charges hate crimes. Read on for more information.

How Is Assault Defined In Colorado?

In Colorado, assault occurs when an assailant unlawfully injures another person. There are different classes of assault that range from felony to misdemeanor depending on factors such as whether there was severe bodily injury done to the victim or whether the assailant used a weapon. Intent also matters in assault: if you intend to cause harm with a deadly weapon or intend to cause disfiguring harm to a peace officer, you can be charged with first-degree assault, regardless of whether you succeeded in your intentions.

Penalties for first-degree assault include fines of up to $750,000 and imprisonment from 10 to 32 years. Second-degree assault involves inflicting bodily harm on a victim with intention or in the heat of the moment, and it includes penalties of up to 16 years in prison, along with fines. Third-degree assault offenses involve inflicting injuries that are more minor compared to first and second-degree assault, as well as accounting for injuries borne of negligence rather than intentionality. Penalties for third-degree assault include up to 24 months in jail and fines of up to $2,000. 

What Is The Difference Between Assault And A Hate Crime?

Colorado state legislature defines a hate crime, otherwise known as a bias-motivated crime, as a crime “with the intent to intimidate or harass another person, in whole or in part, because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation.” 

As distinct from assault, a hate crime includes not only physical assault, but intimidation or harassment, as well as damage to property or hate mail. In the specific case of assault, a physical attack on another person is determined to be a hate crime when it is motivated by hate for a specific class of person. 

How Are Hate Crimes Determined?

Since intention is the big determination behind hate crimes, prosecutors will need to prove not only that the assault took place but that the assailant acted with hateful intent. Each of these elements needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a defendant to be charged with a hate crime. 

Colorado hate crime laws were updated in 2022 following a shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub. Previously, prosecutors had to prove that an assailant was motivated solely by hate, but with the updated laws they now must only prove that the perpetrator’s crimes were motivated at least partially by hate.

So how can intent be determined in these instances? What factors might prosecutors look for in order to demonstrate that a perpetrator acted with the intent to harm based on bias? Some of the possibilities include:

  • Words: Sometimes, people admit to acting based on hate for a group of people because they see their actions as righteous and their biases justified. If they are not forthcoming, however, prosecutors can check texts, email, social media, and any personal writings of the perpetrator. They might also consult people in the lives of the perpetrator who can attest to any hateful language or biases that the assailant held. Slurs or other words exchanged during the crime can also be used to prove hateful bias.
  • Location: If someone targeted a specific group of people for their crimes, they might choose a place that is significant to that group in order to perpetuate harm against them. In the case of the nightclub shooter, it’s telling that he selected an LGBTQ nightclub on Transgender Remembrance Day. Similarly, a shooter targeting a synagogue is likely acting in accordance with their anti-semitism, while a shooter at a majority Black church is acting based on racism. Attacks that take place against a certain group on major holidays associated with that group are also a strong indication.

  • Affiliation: If a person is known to be affiliated with a hate group, either in person or on social media, then goes on to commit crimes in accordance with the ethics of that group, they are likely to be charged with a hate crime.

  • Signs and symbols: If a person has tattoos or paraphernalia associated with a hate group, this strengthens the evidence that their attack was motivated by hate. For example, a person who has a swastika tattoo or owns other pieces of Nazi idolatry is likely motivated by hateful bias if they attack a Jewish person.

These are only a few of the pieces of evidence prosecutors might admit when trying to prove that a hate crime took place. The specifics of the case and the circumstances of the crime will do a lot to inform how the charges will be investigated and proven.

Elevated Penalties For Hate Crimes

In addition to the penalties that are applicable for assault, a person who commits a hate crime in Colorado is looking at additional consequences. Depending on several factors, such as whether a weapon was used, the severity of the injury caused, and whether drugs were administered to the victim, hate crimes can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. 

If the prosecution can prove intent to cause harm, the crime will likely be charged as a felony, which comes with heftier fines and a longer prison sentence. If the hate crime resulted in the death of one or more people, the perpetrator will likely face federal charges and potentially the death penalty. 

Joyner Law Provides Quality Criminal Defense

If you are facing criminal charges, including assault, you need comprehensive legal defense or you risk losing your freedom, potentially for the rest of your life. An assault charge doesn’t have to be a hate crime to rob you of the rights and freedoms that you enjoy. Joyner Law has represented countless clients through their criminal charges and has a strong track record of having charges reduced or dropped. Reach out to us today