Pennsylvania’s hate crime statute already prohibits criminal acts based on race, color, religion or national origin. Now, a new bill introduced in the state Senate would expand that law to include acts based on animus against people with physical or mental disabilities, according to a recent news article from Channel 6 ABC. A similar bill has also been introduced in the state House.
Senate Bill 749 and House Bill 1528 were introduced in response to attacks that occurred in West Chester, Chester County, and the Germantown area of Philadelphia, according to a press release from state Senator Tom Kilborn’s office. The West Chester attack involved a man with cerebral palsy who was “sucker punched” outside a convenience store. The attack made national headlines, as it was caught on video. An attack in which a group of teenagers assaulted a mentally disabled man in Germantown was also videotaped.
Currently, Pennsylvania’s assault laws allow for a maximum of two years in prison for committing an assault—even if it involves a disabled person. In a press conference, District Attorney Tom Hogan stated that the new law would “send a message” about assaults against vulnerable members of society.
Several organizations that support the needs of disabled people, including the Arc of Pennsylvania and at least one local chapter, the Arc of Chester County, have come out in support of the bills. If passed, the bills would add disability to the list of characteristics triggering the treatment of an assault as a hate crime.
Being charged with a hate crime includes the risk of facing higher penalties if you are convicted, as well as the risk of additional negative press and the reputation damage it can cause. Working with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer who can help you fight these charges is essential.