Victims of violent crime are entitled to seek damages from their attackers in civil court. The American legal system imposes high standards for a criminal conviction, making the conviction itself a powerful tool for establishing civil liability. Hate crimes are no different.
What is a hate crime?
The term “hate crime” can be somewhat misleading. Nevada’s criminal code doesn’t provide a distinct group of crimes that fall under the umbrella of hate crime. Rather, the term is used when prosecutors can prove that the defendant’s motivation for committing violent criminal acts was based on animosity toward one or more protected features of the victim. When proven, this ulterior motive can enhance the punishment a criminal receives.
Under NRS 193.1675, a hate crime is a violent crime already punishable as a felony (that is, by a prison term of at least one year) committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. The perpetrator of the crime cannot share the protected trait of the victim—for example, a person of the same race as the victim cannot be prosecuted for a racially motivated hate crime against another person of the same race, unless the perpetrator perceived the victim as being of a different race and attacked them on that basis. Crimes falling within the scope of NRS 193.1675 are punished with extra prison time, from one to twenty years on top of the sentence for the underlying crime, depending on the facts of the case.
Federal law provides similar scope and penalties as found in state law. Sources include the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. § 249, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 28 U.S.C. § 994, and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 18 U.S.C. § 249.
The relationship between a criminal and civil case
A criminal court will sometimes order a convicted defendant to pay the victim restitution as part of sentencing. Restitution may be granted for easily quantified damages, like medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. But restitution does not cover pain and suffering, emotional distress, and similar damages that are hard to reduce to a monetary figure. For these damages the victim of a hate crime may wish to pursue a civil lawsuit.
If the perpetrator of a violent act was convicted of a crime, the conviction becomes an important piece of evidence in a civil trial. Under NRS 41.133, the conviction of a crime is conclusive evidence of the facts necessary to establish the defendant’s civil liability for the plaintiff’s injuries. This simplifies the civil trial process for victims where the criminal defendant has already been convicted. But note that a criminal conviction is not necessary to pursue a civil lawsuit. In many cases of allegedly criminal behavior the perpetrator doesn’t get convicted of a crime, but is still held liable for civil damages. So even if prosecutors fail to get a conviction in court, pursuing a civil case can be worthwhile.
Victims of hate crimes in Nevada may find this booklet by the National Crime Victim Bar Association helpful.
GGRM helps victims recover what they deserve
For over 45 years the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have helped clients in the Las Vegas area recover awards for personal injury. If you have been victimized by a hate crime and have questions about your legal options, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or request a call through our website.