Felony Malicious Harassment (Hate Crime) versus Misdemeanor Harassment

The Seattle Times recently reported on a 48-year-old White Center woman who is charged with a hate crime for allegedly posting a video of a racist tirade on Facebook as she followed her neighbor in her car. The story indicates that at the woman’s arraignment (her first court hearing before the judge), her attorney argued that the allegations did support a hate crime because the woman’s alleged comments about victim’s immigration status and deportation don’t fall into a protected category under state’s hate crimes statute. The State’s hate crimes statute, RCW 9a.36.080, changes a misdemeanor level assault, harassment, or property destruction (maximum penalty 364 days in jail) into a Class C felony (maximum penalty 5 years in prison) if the crime was committed “because of [the suspects] perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.” The woman’s attorney argued that woman’s threats were not based on one of the classes protected by the statute and therefore, the most the prosecutor could charge her with was misdemeanor level harassment under RCW 9a.46.020. The judge disagreed and found that at least preliminarily, the woman’s’ comments about the victim’s immigration status did fall within the protected categories of “race” and “national origin.” Of course, the woman can take her case to trial and make the same argument to the jury. Interestingly, Seattle Municipal Code 12A.06.115 expands the list of classes protected under the City’s hate crime ordinance to include “homelessness, marital status, political ideology, age, or parental status.” The Seattle Municipal Code only covers misdemeanors committed in the city, and does not elevate the hate crime to a felony the same way the state statute does. But the Seattle Municipal Code does define an act as a “hate crime” that would not be a hate crime outside of the city.  If the woman is convicted of a hate crime under the State statute, which again, is a class C felony, her sentence would be determined by applying her criminal history to the crimes’ standard sentencing range. You can view that sentencing range here, and see that even without any criminal history, she will be facing 3 to 9 months in jail.