A development in criminal law in New Jersey and other states has been the implementation of statutes that effectively enhance the penalties of other crimes when the motivation of the criminal act involves animus toward the victim based on categories such as race, gender or sexual orientation. These statutes are generally known as “hate crime” laws.

This post is not an exhaustive explanation of how New Jersey’s bias intimidation law works, and does not address separate federal hate crime laws. Defending against a criminal charge of bias intimidation requires considerable factual investigation, as well as the determination of what would constitute “intimidation” in a given setting.

In New Jersey, the law that enhances penalties in this fashion is not referred to as a hate crime law, but rather as a bias intimidation. The law identifies the following characteristics by which the victim of a crime may be subject to intimidation:

  • race, color or ethnicity
  • religion
  • gender, gender identity or sexual orientation
  • national origin

Intimidation of the victim can be the result of acting with that purpose in mind, or based on a recklessness standard (that is, the perpetrator of the underlying crime knew that the victim would be intimidated based on one of the criteria above even though that was not the express purpose of the criminal act.

Moreover, the law contains a “presumptive” provision so that if the victim reasonably felt intimidated, that gives rise to a presumption that the perpetrator acted with the purpose to intimidate the victim under the purview of the law.

Bias intimidation is a serious charge because it is a separate crime that can result in an additional charge one degree higher than the underlying offense. Thus, it is possible for a situation to arise in which a defendant intimidated a protected person under the law without necessarily having the specific intent to do so, only to have the law impute purposefulness to the act and trigger a new  and more serious charge on top of the original crime.

If you find yourself charged with bias intimidation, having an experienced criminal defense law firm on your side is essential to defending yourself against its possibly significant consequences.