The Seattle City Council will begin the legislative process Tuesday afternoon to change the way hate crimes are prosecuted in the city.
CB 119288 would remove Seattle’s malicious harassment crime, the city’s current hate crime statute, and replace it with a “special allegation of hate crime motivation,” giving the City Attorney’s office greater range in prosecuting crimes targeting protected classes and the ability to ask for greater penalties on more serious cases:
This ordinance authorizes the City Attorney to allege that a criminal incident of assault, harassment or property destruction was motivated by the defendant’s perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental handicap, physical handicap, sensory handicap, homelessness, marital status, political ideology, age, or parental status.
Replacing the crime of malicious harassment with the new special allegation of hate crime motivation will have three major impacts, according to a city council staff memo on the legislation.
First, the new category will require only that the City Attorney prosecutors prove someone “committed the act intentionally,” not that the person charged “committed the act maliciously.”
Second, the change will allow prosecutors to charge a suspect for hate crimes against all protected classes including state-protected classes. Currently, the city can only prosecute hate crimes against the following classes: a person’s homelessness, marital status, political ideology, age, or parental status. The proposed special allegation will include the city and state protections: race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental handicap, physical handicap, sensory handicap, homelessness, marital status, political ideology, age, or parental status.
Finally, the new method will allow prosecutors to pursue the underlying charges of assault, harassment, and property destruction and add the special allegation of a hate crime as warranted. “Even if the special allegation is not proven, the CAO could still succeed in charging the person with the underlying crime,” the council memo reads.
According to the memo, the City Attorney’s office “anticipates asking for higher sentences in cases where they could prove the special allegation” but prosecutors don’t believe the new way to handle hate crime will result in more cases.
The Civil Rights, Economic Development, Utilities & Arts Committee will take up the proposed change Tuesday afternoon with plans for a second discussion and vote in early July.
Seattle has shown a steady rise in reported hate crimes that officials say is partly driven by increased awareness and reporting.