Hate Crime Laws in California - PC 422.6

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Hate Crime Laws in California

In California, Penal Code 422.6 PC defines the offense of hate crime, which prohibits the disruption of an individual's civil rights on the basis of their actual or perceived protected traits.

Under California law, as stated in Penal Code 422.6, it is illegal for an individual to engage in specific actions due to the actual or perceived:

  • Religion
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Association with a person or group possessing one or more of the above-mentioned traits.
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Nationality

The Penal Code 422.6 in California outlines specific actions that are deemed illegal. These actions include willfully injuring, intimidating, or threatening someone in a manner that impedes their ability to exercise their rights under state or federal laws and constitutions, or intentionally damaging or destroying someone's property with the purpose of interfering with their legal and constitutional rights. The purpose of this law is to protect the physical integrity of all individuals and provide a barrier against unauthorized violence.

The law reads: 

“422.6. (a) No person…shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States…because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim listed in subdivision (a) of Section 422.55.

(b) No person…shall knowingly deface, damage, or destroy the real or personal property of any other person for the purpose of intimidating or interfering with the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to the other person by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States…because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim listed in subdivision (a) of Section 422.55.”


A Penal Code 422.6 infraction is classified as a misdemeanor and may result in various penalties. These can include:

  • Probation as a misdemeanor summary
  • Incarceration for a maximum of 12 months in a county jail
  • A monetary fine of up to $5000
  • Completion of 400 hours of community service as a form of punishment.

A defendant may be subjected to enhanced penalties if the prosecution is able to prove that the crime committed was a hate crime. This applies in cases where the defendant has committed either a misdemeanor or a felony. The enhancement in penalties may result in longer jail sentences, the possibility of being imprisoned in a California state prison, and increased monetary fines. It is important to keep in mind that the defendant may face these harsher penalties if the prosecution can demonstrate that the crime was committed as a hate crime.

Possible Legal Defenses

An individual facing hate crime charges can defend themselves by presenting a legal defense. This defense can often prove to be effective and lead to a reduction or dismissal of the charges. Three commonly used defenses in these cases are lack of biased motivation, duress, and insufficient probable cause for the accusation. A well-crafted defense strategy can help to mitigate the charges and provide a better outcome for the individual facing the allegations.

Probable cause

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution mandates that law enforcement must have a valid reason or probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspected individual for committing a crime.

If an individual was apprehended for violating Penal Code 626.10 without proper probable cause, any evidence collected during the unlawful stop or arrest could be excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in either a reduction or dismissal of the charges against the individual.

No bias

A crime can only be classified as a hate crime if the defendant's actions were motivated by prejudice against a particular characteristic protected by Penal Code 422.55, such as race, gender, or disability. This implies that it is a viable legal defense for the accused to demonstrate that they committed the crime, but their actions were not driven by any form of bias, and the motivations for their actions should be separate from any discriminatory thoughts or beliefs.


Duress is a legal defense in which the accused asserts that they were compelled to commit the crime against their will. This defense is only applicable in specific circumstances, such as when a person is threatened with death or serious harm if they do not participate in the commission of a crime, including a hate crime. In this situation, the accused is essentially claiming that they were forced to take part in the offense and did not do so out of their own volition. It is important to note that the duress defense can only be used in extreme circumstances where the threat of harm was imminent and the accused had no reasonable alternative.

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