Penal Code 422.55 PC - Hate Crime Defined Under California Law

Penal Code 422.55 PC is one of California's hate crime statutes that defines what a hate crime is.

According to this statute:

“Hate crime” means a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim:

  • (1) Disability.
  • (2) Gender.
  • (3) Nationality.
  • (4) Race or ethnicity.
  • (5) Religion.
  • (6) Sexual orientation.
  • (7) Association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

Two examples of a hate crime are:

  1. Kevin threatens violence against his neighbors, who are a homosexual male couple, because of their sexual orientation.
  2. Desmond hates the catholic religion and decides to damage church property during a mass.

Two offenses that are not hate crimes include:

  1. Marico punches a Hispanic girl in the face, but she does so out of anger and not because of the girl's race.
  2. Tina “keys” Jose's car, not because he is a male, but because the two were dating and he cheated on her.

The penalties for a hate crime will ultimately depend on the facts of a given case.

If a person injures or threatens another because of a characteristic in PC 422.55, then he can be charged with a misdemeanor under California Penal Code 422.6. The potential penalties for a hate crime under this statute include:

Please note though that a defendant will receive enhanced penalties if:

  1. he committed a misdemeanor and a prosecutor can show that the offense was committed as a hate crime, (the enhanced sentence is authorized under Penal Code 422.7), or
  2. he committed a felony and a prosecutor can show that the offense was committed as a hate crime (the enhanced sentence is authorized under Penal Code 422.75).

Enhanced penalties mean:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

man being punched because of his race

1. What is the legal definition of a hate crime in California?

Penal Code 422.55 PC is the California statute that sets forth the definition of a California “hate crime.”

According to this statute, a hate crime:

“means a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim:

  • (1) Disability.
  • (2) Gender.
  • (3) Nationality.
  • (4) Race or ethnicity.
  • (5) Religion.
  • (6) Sexual orientation.
  • (7) Association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.”1

(emphasis added).

2. What does “actual” characteristic mean under Penal Code 422.55?

Actual” means that a person acts with some type of ill will, or bias motivation, because of the victim's real status regarding disability, gender, nationality, etc.2 In other words, a person performs some offense simply on account of that person's characteristic.

3. What does “perceived” characteristic mean under PC 422.55?

Perceived” means that a person can commit a hate crime in California even if it turns out that the victim did not have one of the characteristics listed in Penal Code 422.55. This is true as long as the defendant believed, or “perceived,” that s/he did.3

Consider, for example, the case where Ronald commits an armed robbery against a couple whom he believes to be Jewish. He yells anti-Jewish slurs during the robbery, but it turns out that the couple is not Jewish.

Nonetheless, because Ronald perceived the couple to be Jewish, he may be charged not only under Penal Code 211 PC California's robbery law, but also under California's hate crimes statute.

attorney reviewing legal documents
A person cannot be convicted of a hate crime unless there is some type of underlying offense.

4. What does it mean for a crime to be committed “because” of a protected characteristic?

Under California hate crimes law, an accused is considered to have committed a crime "because of" the victim's protected characteristic if he acted either wholly or partially because of that characteristic.4

To prove that this is the case, a prosecutor must prove that:

  1. the defendant was biased against the victim because s/he had (or he perceived him/her to have) one of the characteristics listed in PC 422.55, and
  2. that bias is what caused him to commit the alleged crime.5

Note that this bias doesn't have to be the only factor motivating the alleged crime. If the defendant had more than one motivation, he can still face hate crime charges as long as the bias was a substantial part of his actions.6

Consider, for example, the case where Daniel's wife is raped by several men of Mexican descent. Daniel has often made racist comments about Mexicans even before this and has a white supremacist tattoo. He and several friends round up the Mexican men they believe committed the rape and beat them severely.

Daniel is charged with battery causing serious bodily injury, per PC 243d. Because bias against people of Mexican descent was a substantial factor motivating the attack, his crime meets the legal definition of a hate crime in Penal Code 422.55 PC - even though it wasn't the only factor (revenge for his wife's rape was another).7

5. Must there be an underlying crime for an offense to be a hate crime?

A person cannot be convicted of a hate crime unless there is some type of underlying offense.

This means that while a person may show ill will or hatred towards a specific race, there is no hate crime unless that person commits some unlawful act against a person of the given race.

6. What are the penalties for a hate crime?

The penalties for a hate crime will ultimately depend on the facts of a given case.

If a person injures or threatens another because of a characteristic in PC 422.55, then he can be charged with a misdemeanor under Penal Code 422.6 PC. The potential penalties for a hate crime under this statute include:

  • misdemeanor (summary) probation,
  • up to one year in county jail,
  • a fine of up to $5,000, and/or
  • up to 400 hours of community service.8

Please note though that a defendant will receive enhanced penalties if:

  1. he committed a misdemeanor and a prosecutor can show that the offense was committed as a hate crime,9 or
  2. he committed a felony and a prosecutor can show that the offense was committed as a hate crime.10

Enhanced penalties mean:

  • longer jail times,
  • possible imprisonment in the California state prison, and
  • greater fines.

Were you accused of committing a hate crime in California? Call us for help…

california hate crime attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime that meets the definition of a hate crime, per Penal Code 422.55 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For information on Nevada's hate crime laws, please see our article on: Nevada "Hate Crime" Laws (NRS 193.1675).


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 422.55 PC.

  2. See same. See also 88 Cal. Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 141.

  3. See same.

  4. California Penal Code 422.55 PC.

  5. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions ("CALCRIM") 1350.

  6. See same.

  7. Please note that this example is based on the facts of People v. Superior Court (Aishman), (1995) 10 Cal.4th 735.

  8. California Penal Code 422.6 PC.

  9. California Penal Code 422.7 PC.

  10. California Penal Code 422.75 PC.

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