Hate-crime charges aren't just for avowed racists who deliberately target victims based on ethnicity. Often, a simple assault charge, along with the use of a slur -- racial or otherwise -- can technically result in a hate crime.
Case in point: A Morgan Stanley investment banker who allegedly stabbed a cab driver's hand in a dispute over cab fare. Because the Connecticut banker allegedly made threats and racial slurs about the cabbie's Middle Eastern ancestry, the banker was arrested and charged with intimidation by race or bigotry, Reuters reports.
The legal consequences of a hate crime conviction -- a civil rights violation -- can be costly. And it's not just racial slurs that can trigger a hate-crime prosecution.
For example, in Connecticut, where the cabbie stabbing happened, state law defines a hate crime as intentionally intimidating or harassing a victim because of the victim's:
"Mistaken" hate crimes are also covered, as Connecticut's law -- like that in many other states -- includes a victim's actual or "perceived" race, religion, or other trait.
Punishments vary, but in general, more serious hate crimes result in more serious consequences. In Connecticut, if a hate crime results in serious physical injury, a perpetrator can face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Punishments are less severe if a hate crime results in property damage.
Like other states, Connecticut's law also allows hate-crime victims to file a civil lawsuit for damages. Connecticut's law calls for triple damages in hate-crime lawsuits.
Courts may also have other options for hate-crime offenders, such as diversion programs that include education and community service. Because laws are different and are subject to change, it's probably wise to consult a criminal attorney if you're ever charged with a hate crime.