Nicholas Melo, 34, was on his way to a job interview when he was pulled over. According to the New York Post, the police stopped him for making an illegal U-turn, talking on a cell phone while driving, and then discovered that his license was suspended.
It also turned out that he was wanted for a hate crime that he allegedly committed in November of last year. He tried to avoid the arrest by telling the officer that he was on the way to a job interview that his mom had set up. Instead, he was cuffed and brought in for a line-up that reportedly identified him as the attacker.
The catalyst of the violent outburst in a restaurant is unclear. According to the Daily News, Melo said one of the white ladies threw a bottle at him. They say that he called them "n---- loving b-----s" on the way to the restroom. When he returned, Melo punched their black male companion, hurled more racial epithets, and then stabbed the man in the head and back with a fork.
Hate crime statutes are controversial to many. They essentially punish someone for the thoughts in their head. Should it really make a difference whether the stabbing was motivated by a hatred of interracial love or by a tossed bottle? A stab is a stab is a stab, right?
New York State doesn't think so. According to the statute's "Legislative Findings" section:
"Crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is essential to healthy democratic processes. In a democratic society, citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them."
Okay, so the statute has a noble purpose. But what does it really do?
If a person commits a specified crime where the victim is chosen due to their race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation, the punishment for the crime is elevated. Mistake of the perpetrator is not an excuse, meaning if the offender was wrong as to the victim's race, religion, etc., that will not allow them to escape the increased punishment.
Some of the dozens of listed crimes include assault, menacing, strangulation, sex crimes, burglary, arson, robbery and harassment.
If a person is convicted of a crime that is a misdemeanor or class C, D, or E felony, the crime is elevated one step. For example, a class C felony becomes a class B felony.
Those convicted of class B or A felonies face increased sentences as well, though the increase depends on the crime.
In addition to an increased sentence, the offender may also be required to complete a hate crime prevention and education program.
- Consult a New York Criminal Defense Attorney (FindLaw)
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