Defining “Hate Crime” in Florida & the Dangers of Underreporting Them

July 14, 2021 Criminal Defense

The Florida Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines a hate crime as a “committed or attempted criminal act by any person or group of persons against a person or the property of another person or group, which in any way constitutes an expression of hatred toward the victim because of his/her personal characteristics. Personal characteristics include: race/color; gender/gender identity; religion; ethnicity/ancestry/national origin; sexual orientation; advanced age; mental/physical disability; and homeless status.”[1]

Relevant Statutes

Section 775.085(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes provides for the reclassification of any felony or misdemeanor if the commission of such felony or misdemeanor evidences prejudice based on race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim. The reclassifications increase the maximum sentence and fine imposed and include:

  • A misdemeanor of the second degree is reclassified to a misdemeanor of the first degree.
  • A misdemeanor of the first degree is reclassified to a felony of the third degree.
  • A felony of the third degree is reclassified to a felony of the second degree.
  • A felony of the second degree is reclassified to a felony of the first degree.
  • A felony of the first degree is reclassified to a life felony.

Section 775.085(2) also creates a civil solution by allowing any person or organization that establishes by clear and convincing evidence that they have been coerced, intimidated, or threatened in violation of the section to have a cause of action for treble damages, an injunction, or any other appropriate relief in law or in equity. In addition, Section 877.19 centers around the Hate Crimes Reporting Act and requires law enforcement to report certain information of the offense when it is alleged to be a hate crime. It also mandates collection and dissemination of data on incidents of criminal acts that evidence prejudice based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin.

The Prevalence of Hate Crimes in Florida

Between 2013 and 2017, hate crimes in Florida increased 102%, with racial animosity being the most prevalent reason for single-bias offenses[2] The second most common bias was religion, and “behind that [included] crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.”[3] Specifically, “African-Americans were far and away the most likely to be victimized, [and] Jewish people were most likely to be targeted based on religion.”[4] Additionally, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism released a study in January 2019 that found that, “from 2017 to 2018, extremist groups in the sunshine state have accounted for 197 incidents, including five murders/mass shootings, five terror plots and one police shootout. Extremist groups also held seven rallies and were responsible for 83 instances of propaganda distribution.”[5] Approximately 98 of those incidents included right-wing extremist groups – the largest margin for any one specific group.[6]

The Lack of Reporting Hate Crimes 

In 2018, Jacksonville, Florida led the nation in the murder of transgender women. However, not a single murder was reported as a hate crime.[7] The National Hate Crime statistics released by the FBI in 2018 show that Florida significantly underreports hate crimes compared to other states, with “more than 90 percent of Florida Law enforcement agencies [reporting that] no hate crimes occurred in their districts.”[8] States with drastically smaller populations, such as New Jersey, reported 561 hate crimes in the year, while Florida reported a stark 141.[9] According to Dr. Brandan Lantz, a criminology researcher at Florida State University, “it is unlikely that 90 percent of Florida’s agencies actually have no hate crimes, [and] if we take away the hate crime label, then we aren’t socially condemning acts motivated by bias in the way we should as a society.”[10] Although it’s the State Attorney’s Office who decides whether to enhance a penalty based on the facts of the case pointing to it being a hate crime, “it’s up to local law enforcement agencies to decide whether something should be reported as a hate crime, and whether law enforcement properly documents an incident impacts how prosecutors approach a case.”[11] Therefore, it is imperative that police departments have specific training and policies for investigating hate crimes. Lack of accurate reporting means that little local data exists to exemplify what a serious risk hate crimes pose, and in turn, they are not prioritized at an agency level.[12]

Furthermore, sensitivity when identifying victims of hate crimes, specifically those in the LGBTQ+ community who have preferred pronouns, is imperative in victims attaining the justice they deserve. Sasha Garden, an African American transgender woman who was found dead with signs of trauma in the summer of 2018 was referred to in headlines as a “man wearing wig, dressed as woman [and] found dead.”[13] This is just one example of law enforcement in Florida “dead-nam[ing] transgender individuals,” meaning they “use their birth name and gender identity in press releases and official reports [which] besides being disrespectful” can seriously hinder investigations.[14]

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Lawyer

Those charged with hate crimes can face harsh penalty enhancements, therefore, it is imperative that a knowledgeable attorney is retained who can properly distinguish between hate crimes and non-hate crimes. Contact a Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to explore your options and ensure you are provided the best defense possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm are extensively educated and will be adamant in pursuing justice on your behalf. Call a defense attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your options during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

Sarah Pumphrey Law Firm







[1] Hate Crimes- UCR Definition,  Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Crime-Data/Hate-Crimes.aspx (last visited July 13, 2021).

[2] Ray Roa, Hate Crimes in Florida Increased by 102% Between 2013 and 2017, Orlando Weekly (July 9, 2019 2:16 PM EST,

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Jack Brook, Hate Crimes Rare in Florida. But Only Because Many Police Fail to Report them Accurately, Miami Herald (Nov. 26, 2019 6:00 AM EST),

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

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