Teens Receive Felony Charges for Antisemitic Graffiti

December 3, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Broward Sheriff’s Office has made three arrests in a case involving multiple anti-Semitic messages displayed through a Florida neighborhood. Although the suspects are minors, they are being charged with felony charges due to the hate crime enhancement penalties in the State.

This article will provide details pertaining to the Weston case, along with information on criminal mischief charges, antisemitism in Florida, and the importance of criminal defense for juveniles.

What was the Incident?

Three teenagers have been arrested in relation to several incidents of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in Weston, Florida. Since all three of the suspects are younger than 18, their identities are currently protected.

According to the report, the first incident of vandalism took place in October at a local golf course. Hateful messages were spray painted outside of the golf course bathrooms on Yom Kippur—the Jewish holiday that takes place on October 5th. There were also traces of the same harmful messages on a playground at Hunters Pointe Park.

On October 25th, police reported another incident at the same golf course, where more hateful messages were left again outside of the bathrooms. The third incident took place only five days later when a swastika was painted on a speed limit sign, an electrical box, and the neighborhood sign.

Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) offered a $15,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest. On November 30th, 2022, BSO held a press conference announcing they had made three arrests in the case.

BSO Sheriff Gregory Tony explained that after some “old school investigative tactics” they were able to track down the suspects who have now been arrested. Police said all three of the teens confessed to varying degrees of their roles in the offense.

Although the suspects are all minors, due to the hate crime aspect of the case, they are facing felony charges. Two of the teens are being charged with three counts of criminal mischief, two counts of burglary to a structure, and one count of public order crime prejudice, which is the hate crime enhancement. The third teenager is facing two charges of criminal mischief and one count of burglary to a structure.

Criminal Mischief in Florida

When an individual gets accused of graffiti or vandalism, the criminal offense they may be charged with is criminal mischief. Under Florida Statute section 806.13, criminal mischief is defined as when an individual willfully and maliciously injures or damages any real or personal property belonging to another, including but not limited to, the placement of graffiti thereon or other acts of vandalism thereto.

The penalties for criminal mischief vary depending on the valued amount of damage to public or private property. If the damage to such property was $200 or less, the accused person may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. A second-degree misdemeanor has a penalty of up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

If the damage to such property was more than $200 but less than $1,000, the accused person may be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor has a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year of imprisonment.

A person who has had one or more previous convictions for the above charges will have any subsequent charges reclassified to third-degree felonies. The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years of imprisonment.

If the damage to such property is $1,000 or more, or if there was an interruption or impairment of a business operation or public communication, transportation, or other public services which costs over $1,000 to restore, the accused person may be charged with a third-degree felony.

It is also considered a third-degree felony if the accused person maliciously and willfully defaced, injured, or damaged by any means a church, synagogue, mosque, or another place of worship.

Elevated Charges for Hate Crimes

Florida Legislature passed hate crime laws in 1989, specifically the Statute to increase criminal charges. Florida Statute section 775.085 is titled “Evidencing prejudice while committing [an] offense.” The law explains that the penalty for any misdemeanor or felony shall be reclassified if the commission of the offense evidences prejudice based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim.  

The reclassification works as follows:

  • A second-degree misdemeanor is reclassified to a first-degree misdemeanor
  • A first-degree misdemeanor is reclassified to a third-degree felony
  • A third-degree felony is reclassified to a second-degree felony
  • A second-degree felony is reclassified to a first-degree felony
  • A first-degree felony is reclassified to a life felony

Antisemitism on the Rise

The FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics report examined the biased motivations for hate crimes in the U.S. On a national level, 56.1% of the reported hate crimes were targeted toward the Jewish community. In Florida, the report found that the most common motives behind hate crimes were 40.4% anti-Black, 15.6% anti-gay (male), and 14.7% anti-Jewish. The state of Florida’s hate crimes against the Jewish community account for 80% of its religiously motivated hate crimes. Specifically, 40% of all vandalism and destruction of property hate crimes and 38.9% of intimidation hate crimes were committed against Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released its 2021 Audit of anti-Semitic Incidents, which ranked the highest number of antisemitism incidents in the Jewish American communities since the organization began tracking incidents in 1979. The report indicated that the nation experienced over 2,700 acts of assault, vandalism, and harassment toward the Jewish community.

ADL reported that Florida was the fourth-highest state for reported antisemitism events in 2021. The number rose by 50% from 2020’s numbers, increasing from 127 to 190 in only a year. Of the 190 antisemitism incidents, there were 58 related to extremist groups, 22 were anti-Israel/anti-Zionism-related, and 41 incidents included a swastika.

The following is a list of key antisemitism events that took place from 2020-2021:

ADL is an organization working to fight against all forms of antisemitism and bias. By using innovation and driving impact through their partnerships, ADL strives to combat extremism and bigotry while fighting to protect democracy and justice for all. To find out more about how ADL’s data and steps to battle antisemitism, read their page here.

Criminal Defense for Juveniles

When a person under the age of 18 is accused of a crime, they are typically charged as a juvenile. Juvenile offenses often result in lesser penalties than if the individual were charged as an adult. For example, a juvenile may be sentenced to a diversion program rather than being sentenced to imprisonment in a juvenile detention center.

However, a juvenile can be tried as an adult when certain offenses are considered more severe than others. For this reason, a criminal defense attorney is just as important for a juvenile accused of a crime. Any juvenile who has been accused of a crime should immediately seek legal advice from a skilled defense attorney in their area.

During the BSO press conference for the case mentioned above, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony stressed that age did not matter to the department when it came to hate crime charges. “I could care less if you are 14, 15, 16, 38, or 75, we’re going to charge you accordingly,” Sheriff Tony said.  

Sheriff Tony went on to explain that due to the severity of hate crime offenses, they cannot afford to dismiss any type of threat, regardless of age. With previous examples such as the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting or the most recent Club Q shooting in Colorado—hate crimes have begun to turn violent too often.

The Sheriff admitted that the juveniles were members of the Weston community and had no prior convictions. “Talking to the officers who investigated the individuals and interviewed them, now there is a sentiment of remorse and regret. Now they’re talking about that this was supposed to be a joke. This is not a laughing matter,” Sheriff Tony addressed in the video.

 The press conference ended with Sheriff Tony warning that when these 16-year-olds try and apply for jobs later in life they may be prevented from many opportunities due to having hate crime charges on their permanent records. This is entirely true, as a felony conviction can stay with a person and haunt them for the rest of their lives.  

The best way to protect yourself or a loved one who has been accused of a hate crime is to speak with a defense attorney near you.  

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Tallahassee, Florida

As mentioned above, the state of Florida is not taking hate crimes lightly. The State will try and prosecute hate crime cases harshly and enhance charges if there is proof of prejudice against a group of people. Keeping that in mind, it is in your best interest to seek out legal guidance from a professional.

Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients across the state for various charges. Our clients have come from all walks of life and are of all ages. We will work tirelessly to build a strong defense for your case and to fight for your freedom. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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