Could Threats Lead To A Misdemeanor Or A Hate Crime?

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Thomas C. Grajek View Profile

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A recent unfortunate incident resulted in two 16-year-old high school students being charged with misdemeanor assault. Although the students admittedly exchanged inappropriate texts, whether or not their conduct meets the elements of a misdemeanor assault is questionable.

According to a news report, the two students, who are white, were sending messages between themselves in which they discussed killing their black language arts teacher. One student was upset that the teacher refused to allow her to make up some missing work. The messages were discovered by another teacher. When the teacher found out, she said she was frightened enough to buy a gun. When the students were confronted with their messages, they said they were only joking.

According to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement tried to find a crime that would fit the conduct. They had a little trouble trying to “fit the elements that are needed.” Finally, it was decided to charge the two teenagers with misdemeanor assault. The charges were enhanced by allegations that the assault was a hate crime.

Elements of Misdemeanor Assault and a Hate Crime Enhancement

In order to obtain a conviction for misdemeanor assault, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant: made an intentional, unlawful threat “by word or act to do violence to the person of another”, had an apparent ability to carry out the threat, did some act which created a well-founded fear in such person and that such violence is imminent.

In order to enhance the conviction as a hate crime, the prosecution must prove that the misdemeanor was based on prejudice against a person because of their race, color, ethnicity or other classifications that are articulated i the statute.

Consequences of a Conviction

Some view a misdemeanor as not being a very serious offense. While not as serious as a felony there are consequences. The defendant now will have a criminal record. It also may affect the defendant’s life in making it more difficult to get a job or rent an apartment.

An assault is a second degree misdemeanor which carries a jail sentence of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500. If enhanced as a hate crime, it is increased to a first degree misdemeanor which carries a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.

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