On July 14, Bastille Day for some, Sunday for Americans, a man walked up to the Hebrew Discovery Center in Woodland Hills and splashed white paint on the front of their building. As of now, the suspect is still in the loose, though rumors are going around that investigators found a fingerprint on a discarded can of paint on the scene. Since the crime is being investigated as a hate crime, authorities are not speaking on the course of the investigation.

In California, hate crimes are those that occur because of the victim’s disability, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, or religion. When a crime is upgraded to a hate crime, severe additional penalties are added to what would have been the sentence for the crime were it not designated as a hate crime.

California has several statutes involving hate crimes, beginning with California Penal Code 422.6 PC, which is a standalone crime that makes it illegal to interfere with someone else’s civil rights, or damage or destroy their property because they have one or more of the protected characteristics previously listed. Some examples of PC 422.6 violations include:

  • Threatening violence against people because they’re gay
  • Vandalizing a religious building, whether a church, temple, mosque, or other
  • Disrupting a meeting of a religious group by being a nuisance, and/or destroying their property

For violating California Penal Code 422.6 PC – a standalone hate crime – the penalties include misdemeanor probation, up to 1 year in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, up to 400 hours of community service.

However, when an underlying crime (such as vandalism) is upgraded to a hate crime, it isn’t considered a standalone crime. If the underlying crime is a misdemeanor and it falls under California’s hate crime guidelines, then per California Penal Code 422.7 PC, the misdemeanor is upgraded to a “wobbler” which can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case. If charged as a felony, the potential penalties are significantly increased. They include felony probation, 16 months to 3 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Keep in mind that the potential penalties for most California misdemeanors (that are not also hate crimes) is up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 – so that’s a pretty steep increase.

When an underlying crime is a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor, and it meets California’s definition of a hate crime, the potential penalties include an additional 1 to 3 years in prison.