The current political climate in Washington and across the entire U.S. is such that there are intense feelings and acts that may inevitably lead to criminal charges. For example, a person could be accused of a hate crime. In Washington, this is called malicious harassment. Being convicted of a crime related to malicious harassment can lead to significant penalties. Under the law, it is malicious harassment when a person is the victim of certain acts due to a perception of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, ancestry or handicaps. Understanding the criteria for these allegations and what the penalties are is an integral part of formulating a strong defense.
If a person who falls into the above categories is injured, has physical destruction to his or her property committed by another person or group or is threatened as part of a group, and that person is left in reasonable fear for his or her safety, it will be constitute the crime of malicious harassment. Words by themselves are not sufficient to be deemed malicious harassment unless they are in a context or circumstance that indicate that they are threatening. If the person uttering the words is not able to carry out the threat, then it is not malicious harassment.
Unless a lack of intent to make threats against a particular group can be shown, there are two behaviors that can be used by the prosecution to infer malicious harassment. One is a cross being burned on a property if the victim is believed to be African American. Another is if a piece of property is defaced with a swastika and the victim is believed to be Jewish. Mistaking a person for a certain race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, ancestry or having a handicap is not a sufficient defense. If there is another crime committed during this act, it can be tried separately. Malicious harassment is a Class 6 felony.
Given the manner in which these types of crimes are publicized and penalized, those who are facing a criminal charge related to them need to understand the extensive penalties they can face on a legal level. They can also cause major problems on a personal and professional level. With that in mind, having a strong criminal defense for malicious harassment is one of the most important factors in any case. An attorney can help.
Source: app.leg.wa.gov, "RCW 9A.36.080 -- Malicious harassment -- Definition and criminal penalty.," accessed on Nov. 21, 2016