California has some of the strictest gun laws on the books in the country. On January 1, 2018, the state’s gun regulations became even tighter. The California legislature passed a bill in 2017 that would prevent individuals convicted of a hate crime from owning a gun within 10 years of their crime.
California’s governor signed the bill when it was on his desk, and it will become effective during the new year. California’s criminal defense attorneys must be aware of what this means for their future clients. The law has wide-reaching consequences and will likely affect a large number of California residents in the future.
Previous California Law
In most cases, a person who is convicted of a violent crime in California will have their gun ownership rights suspended or revoked. This includes a laundry list of violent misdemeanor offenses.
However, there was a loophole under California’s previous laws. Specifically, it excuses violent behavior that is committed with a biased motive. Under the old law, a person who was convicted of a violent misdemeanor hate crime would not lose their right to own or possess a firearm.
Imagine that a defendant is arrested and charged with two distinct crimes: assault and committing a violent hate crime. The charges are based on the fact that the defendant displayed a firearm and used it to threaten another person because of his race. A violent hate crime is seemingly more serious than assault.
However, California’s laws, as previously stated, only listed assault as a crime that, if convicted, would result in the loss of gun ownership rights. If the prosecution was only successful in getting a conviction for the hate crime charges, the defendant would not automatically lose their right to own a firearm. On the other hand, if the state was only successful on the assault charge, the defendant would lose his right to own a firearm for 10 years.
Disarm Hate Act
The Disarm Hate Act closed this loophole and explicitly prevents individuals who have been convicted of a violent misdemeanor hate crime from possessing or acquiring firearms within 10 years of their criminal conviction. Violent misdemeanor hate crimes, as defined in California Penal Code 422.6 PC, occur when:
- A person uses force or threat to willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten another person who is exercising their free rights in California, or
- A person knowingly defaces, damages, or destroys the property of another person in order to intimidate them or interfere with the exercise of their free rights.
As it currently stands, this violent hate crime is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in a county jail and $1,000 in criminal fines. The statute itself is silent regarding gun ownership rights. The Disarm Hate Act explicitly amends the law to include 422.6 PC as an offense that will automatically trigger a 10-year suspension of the right to own or acquire firearms.
Fighting Hate Crime Charges in California
It will be extremely important for criminal defense attorneys in California to fight hate crime charges against their clients. As of 2018, a conviction for a hate crime will not only result in possible jail time and fines, but also mandate the loss of certain rights.
Some attorneys may have strategized to use this loophole for their clients in the past, but may want to think twice about how to approach similar cases in the future. A conviction for a hate crime will significantly impair a client’s ability to have a successful future.
It will likely be advisable to tenaciously fight hate crime charges and secure a less harsh alternative. A conviction for assault or battery will not carry the same social and civil stigma that a hate crime conviction has. As a result, it may be best to secure these lesser charges whenever possible.