There certainly is a perceived stigma associated with almost any criminal activity, yet that which most assign for hate crimes might be among the most prejudicial. Being accused of a hate crime can leave you facing criminal penalties, yet even beyond that, can destroy your reputation and alienate you from certain members of your community. Thus, any such accusations should be taken seriously and disputed if the actions you are alleged to have committed do not meet the standard of a hate crime. To do this, you of course need to understand what those are.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines a hate crime as any crime for which there is a motivation for committing the crime based on bias. Looking at that definition in two parts, you can see that first and foremost, a crime must have been committed. Acts such as assault or vandalism may leave little room for interpretation, yet what about things that you say or write. You can indeed be prosecuted for making threats against another, however there needs to be substantive proof that you had the intention of carrying those threats out (or that your words might have caused others to reasonably believe that you would). A simple utterance made in the heat of the moment may not meet this definition.
There also needs to be a bias apparent in the alleged act for it to be considered a hate crime. States are left to determine what those bias motivations may be in their local areas. In Missouri, bias is defined as motivations based on:
- Gender or gender identity
- Sexual Orientation
Crimes directed specifically at juveniles also meet the definition of a hate crime in Missouri.