Domestic violence can encompass many different offenses, including assault, stalking, and harassment. Of course, there are many cases of assault, stalking, and harassment which have nothing to do with domestic violence. Hate crimes work in a similar way. Depending on the context in which the crime was committed, numerous offenses can potentially be classified as hate crimes, including vandalism, assault, and rape. In this article, our assault lawyers will explain hate crime laws in New Jersey, including enhanced penalties for convicted offenders.

If your child is in college and has been accused of a hate crime, contact an experienced attorney for students accused of a hate crime at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today so that you don’t have to go through this challenging moment on your own.

Supreme Court Finds Part of Bias Intimidation Statute Unconstitutional

Part of New Jersey’s hate crime legislation, which is codified at N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1 (Bias Intimidation) was recently ruled unconstitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In the past, N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1(a)(3) held that a person was guilty of bias intimidation, or committing a hate crime, if the victim of the crime “reasonably believed that either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim… because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s race, color, religion,” and so forth.

In other words, as long as the victim perceived that he or she was the target of a hate crime, it was possible for the alleged offender to be convicted — regardless of what that the defendant’s actual intent really was.

Capitol building at night with street and lawmakers

In April 2007, David Pomianek, a Caucasian maintenance worker with the Parks and Recreation Division of the Gloucester Township Department of Public Works, allegedly committed hate crimes against an African-American coworker, Steven Brodie. The charges were filed after Pomianek and co-defendant Michael Dorazo, also Caucasian, played a prank on Brodie by temporarily locking him inside of a 16’x8′ steel cage during maintenance work.

After asking if he was alright, to which Brodie replied he was fine, Pomianek and his co-workers released Brodie after just a few minutes had passed. However, in the brief period of time Brodie was locked in the cage, Pomaniek stated, “Oh, you see, you throw a banana in the cage and he goes right in.” Brodie confirmed that the word “monkey” was never used.

Nonetheless, Brodie was angered by the remark’s racial implications — particularly in light of a previous incident involving his co-workers, which Brodie stated that he “took… as geared towards slavery because you have a black man working and he’s getting whipped as he’s working.” In that incident, which occurred in 2006, Pomianek jokingly tapped Brodie on the shoulder with a bungee cord as Brodie was performing winter weather maintenance. No verbal remarks were made.

Following these two incidents, David Pomianek — who had a record of being disciplined for practical jokes involving Caucasian co-workers — was convicted of harassment by communication and harassment by alarming conduct. Based on these offenses, Pomianek was later convicted of bias intimidation.

However, Pomianek successfully appealed his conviction before the New Jersey Supreme Court, which decided that “N.J.S.A. § 2C:16–1a(3) would be unconstitutional if it permitted a defendant to be convicted of a bias offense based on the victim’s perception of the defendant’s conduct, without requiring the State to prove defendant’s biased intent in committing the underlying crime. To avoid an interpretation that would render the provision unconstitutional… we conclude that subsection (3) requires proof of defendant’s biased intent.” The harassment conviction was affirmed, but the hate crime component of the conviction was remanded for re-trial.

Enhanced Penalties for Hate Crimes in New Jersey

All that being said, there are still other ways a person can be charged with committing hate crimes in New Jersey. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1(a)(1), it is a hate crime to commit or attempt to commit any crime “with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.”

Similarly, N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1(a)(2) provides grounds for hate crime charges if the defendant commits or attempts to commit a crime while “knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated” based on race, religion, and so forth.

When a crime is classified as a hate crime, the offender is subject to enhanced penalties. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1(c), a disorderly persons (DP) offense or petty DP offense will be elevated to a fourth degree crime, which is like a misdemeanor turning into a low-level felony. Likewise, indictable crimes (felonies) which are classified as hate crimes will be elevated by one degree — for instance, a fourth degree crime would become a third degree crime, and so forth. Needless to say, this means higher fines and longer prison sentences for defendants who are convicted.

If you or one of your loved ones has been charged with hate crimes in Atlantic City, Cape May Courthouse, or elsewhere in southern New Jersey, you need an intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.”

golden scales balancing law and justice

Similarly, N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1(a)(2) provides grounds for hate crime charges if the defendant commits or attempts to commit a crime while “knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated” based on race, religion, and so forth.

When a crime is classified as a hate crime, the offender is subject to enhanced penalties. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:16-1(c), a disorderly persons (DP) offense or petty DP offense will be elevated to a fourth degree crime, which is like a misdemeanor turning into a low-level felony. Likewise, indictable crimes (felonies) which are classified as hate crimes will be elevated by one degree — for instance, a fourth degree crime would become a third degree crime, and so forth. Needless to say, this means higher fines and longer prison sentences for defendants who are convicted.

If you or one of your loved ones has been charged with hate crimes in Atlantic City, Cape May Courthouse, or elsewhere in southern New Jersey, you need an aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your Constitutional liberties. The attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych have over 45 years of combined experience handling a wide array of serious criminal charges on behalf of adults and juveniles. To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call us right away at (609) 616-4956. Se habla español.