Bias-related crimes on college campuses have been of increasing concern to campus administrators and law enforcement officials alike. Bias-related crime is a very serious matter, and a direct violation of Nazareth College Statement on Respect and Diversity, i.e. "respect for the dignity of all people is an essential part of the college's tradition and mission, and its vision of the future." New York state and federal laws have recently further defined bias crimes and significantly increased the punishments to those that perpetrate these crimes.
New York State's Hate Crimes Act of 2000 (Penal Law, Section 485) has increased the criminal penalties for most significant crimes; including criminal mischief, criminal trespass, harassment, stalking, assault, arson, robbery, burglary, stalking, rape, criminal sexual assault, and others, if the crime was also classified as a "hate crime." A "hate crime" occurs where the victim was selected on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, old age, disability, or sexual orientation. For example, the maximum sentence for a first conviction of a non-violent felony increases from 3 to 6 years, if the victim was selected based on his/her sexual orientation.
New York state laws also define specific crimes with respect to bias. In particular, under the New York Civil Rights Law (Section 40-c) a person or entity that commits the crime of ordinary harassment is guilty of a class-A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year in jail), if the victim was harassed because of his or her race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, or disability.
Similarly, the crimes of aggravated harassment in the first and second degrees (NYS Penal Law Section 240) are committed when the harassment occurred because of a belief or perception about the victim's race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation. First-degree aggravated harassment is a felony, punishable with imprisonment for a year, even for a first offense.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines (18 USC Appendix 3A1.1), applicable to those who commit federal crimes, also provide for significantly increased prison terms for crimes if they are perpetrated on people, or their property because of the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
United States Congress has also defined special hate-based crimes in the Federal criminal code (18 USC Sections 245, 247). It is a federal offense to use force, or the threat of force to willfully injure, intimidate or interfere with someone (or a class of people) from exercising or enjoying certain federal rights, such as voting, running for office, or applying for a federal job. Those rights include enjoying the benefits of any program or activity receiving Federal assistance, of which Nazareth College is a recipient.
It is also a federal offense to intimidate someone from participating, without discrimination on account of race, color, religion or national origin, in any of those federally protected rights or benefits. Federal law also makes it a crime to deface, damage, or destroy religious places because of their religious character or because of the race, color, or ethnic characteristics of anyone associated with that property. These hate-based federal crimes can all result in fines and up to a year of imprisonment, and if dangerous weapons, injuries, sexual abuse, kidnapping, death or other violent elements are involved, prison sentences can be much longer, and punishment can even include the federal death penalty.
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