What are Hate Crimes in Mississippi?

Technically, there is no such thing as a “hate crime,” by definition, in Mississippi.  Instead, Mississippi treats all crimes, felonies or misdemeanors, as “hate crimes,” if the prosecution can prove that the crime was committed “because of the actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender of the victim.”  Miss. Code. Ann § 99-19-301.  In other words, the “hate crime” label is applied during the sentencing phase of the criminal process.  In fact, the portion of the Mississippi Code that covers Mississippi’s Hate Crimes laws is entitled “Enhanced Penalties for Offenses Committed for Discriminatory Reasons.”

Notice Requirements

In order to inflict this enhanced penalty on you, the prosecutor must provide you with written notice that he or she intends to seek the penalty, by actually including this notice of intent as a separate part of your Indictment paperwork.  Because this is a sentencing enhancement, the fact that these additional penalties are being sought cannot even be mentioned in the guilt or innocence phase of the trial in front of the jury, to prevent the “hate crime” issue from influencing the jury’s consideration of the facts of whether you did it or not.

The Required Proceedings

If you are found guilty of the underlying offense, and the state has provided the proper notice of its intent to enhance (increase) your sentence under the hate crimes laws, the court must have a separate hearing to determine your sentence.  Unless you have pleaded guilty and waived your right to a jury, a jury (either the same one from your trial or a new one) must hear evidence from the state and be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. the defendant perceived, knew, or reasonably should have known that the victim was within the class delineated; (race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender)
  2. the defendant maliciously and with specific intent committed the offense because the victim was within the class.

By statute, both you (your lawyer) and the state are allowed to present arguments for or against the enhancement.

Hate Crimes Penalties

If the state proves the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt, then the penalty for any given offense may be doubled.  Double jail.  Double fine.  Double stinks.

As a practical matter, the hate crime enhancement is used very rarely.  Obviously, even the connotation of a “hate crime” evokes emotion, passion, and politics, and usually both sides of a criminal matter want to avoid these factors if possible.  If you get caught up in a prosecution and receive notice of a sentencing enhancement under these laws, make sure your lawyer knows what to do.