Minnesota’s hate crimes law
Contrary to popular belief, Minnesota does not have a "hate crimes law.” Instead, the Legislature has identified particular crimes which, if perpetrated against someone because of a specific characteristic of the victim, such as their sexual orientation, trigger heightened penalties. These identified crimes are criminal damage to property, assault, and harassment/stalking.
“Sexual Orientation” in Minnesota
Under Minnesota law, ”sexual orientation” is defined to include not only (actual or perceived) heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, but also those “having or being perceived as having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness.” (Minn. Stat. § 363.01, subd. 41a. ”Minn. Stat.” refers to ”Minnesota Statute”; statutes may be viewed in their entirety at a public library, or at the Legislature’s website). In other words, wherever in Minnesota law the phrase “sexual orientation” appears, it includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. This holds true as well for Minnesota’s various bias-motivated crimes provisions.
General Categories of Crime
In Minnesota, crimes are classified into four categories that are distinguished by the maximum penalty that can be imposed. The lowest level of crime is a “petty misdemeanor,” the maximum penalty for which is a $300 fine. The next highest level of crime is a “misdemeanor,” whose maximum penalty is a fine of $1,000, 90 days in jail, or both. Next comes the “gross misdemeanor,” punishable by a fine of up to $3,000, 1 year in jail, or both. Finally, the highest category of crime is the “felony,” for which a guilty party could be punished by more than one year in jail, and substantial fines as established by law. (Minn. Stat. § 609.02.)
Effect of Bias Crimes Provisions
Those provisions of Minnesota law imposing additional penalties on people who victimize others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., generally to shift the crime “up one level” from what it normally would be without the bias element. For example, if a person commits a misdemeanor crime against another, but was motivated by bias, the bias-motivation provisions would convert this crime into a gross misdemeanor. Similarly, a bias-motivated gross misdemeanor would be punishable as a felony.
For bias-motivated felonies, however, there is no “higher” category to go to. In such cases, if a bias motivation is proved, this can be used to seek from the sentencing judge an “upward departure” from the sentence that would otherwise be imposed.
Type of "Hate Crimes" Subject To
Criminal Damage to Property (CDP):
“Whoever intentionally causes damage to another person’s physical property without the other person’s consent because of the property owner’s … sexual orientation” is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, “if the damage reduces the value of the property by not more than $250.” (Minn. Stat. § 609.595, subd. 2b (CDP in the third degree)). (Absent bias, this would be a misdemeanor-level crime.)
If the damage is between $250 and $500, and bias motivated the damage, the perpetrator may be charged with a felony. (Minn. Stat. § 609.595, subd.1a (CDP in the second degree)). Damage exceeding $500 (measured by the cost of repair and replacement) is already a felony. (Minn. Stat. § 609.595, subd. 1(3) (CDP in the first degree)).
“Assault” is defined as “(1) an act done with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or (2) the intentional infliction of or attempt to inflict bodily harm upon another.” (Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 10). There are five categories of assault, defined with respect to the degree of bodily harm inflicted and the use of dangerous weapons, if any. The definition of assault, above, constitutes fifth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. (Minn. Stat. § 609.224). However, if fifth-degree assault is committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation, it becomes fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor. (Minn. Stat. § 609.2231). All other forms of assault are already felonies.
“Harassment” means conduct which one “knows or has reason to know would cause the victim under the circumstances to feel frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated, and causes this reaction on the part of the victim.” (Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd. 1.) It is a gross misdemeanor to harass another by such actions as illegally intending to injure the person, property, or rights of another; stalking, following, or pursuing another; returning to another’s property without consent; or repeated harassing phone calls or mail. (Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd.2). However, harassing another because of that person’s sexual orientation converts this gross misdemeanor into a felony. (Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd.3.)
It is critical to understand that with any bias-motivated crime, it is irrelevant which sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. is at issue. It is just as much a “hate crime” to assault a gay person because they’re gay as it is to assault a heterosexual person because they’re heterosexual.
Police Reporting of Bias Crimes
Under Minnesota law, peace officers responding to calls MUST classify any crime – not just the three described above – as a bias crime if either the officer OR the victim believes that bias was a motivating factor. (Minn. Stat. § 626.5531.) It does not matter if the officer does not agree with the victim’s allegation of bias.
Civil Damages for Bias Offenses
Finally, regardless of whether criminal charges are filed in a bias incident, or how a criminal trial turns out, the victim of any bias-motivated crime has the right to file civil charges against the offender within six years of the incident. (Minn. Stat. § 611A.79, subds. 2,3,5.) Plaintiffs may recover the greater or $500 or actual damages. Parents are generally liable for their children’s actions, up to a limit of $5,000. (Minn. Stat. § 611A.79, subds. 2,4.)
For more information, contact:
Anti-Violence Program, ext. 210