Memory of Wisconsin State Fair Flash Mob Attacks Revives Topic of Hate Crime Enhancements

This year's Wisconsin State Fair - held on the state fairgrounds in West Allis - was the site of fun and festivity for hundreds of thousands. The festivities were marred by tragedy, though, by what police in West Allis and neighboring Milwaukee are calling attacks by a roving mob of African American teens. Authorities have announced their intentions to treat the crimes as "hate crimes" and seek enhanced penalties available under Wisconsin law.

The so-called "flash mob attacks" perpetrated by mostly black teenagers and young adults resulted in assaults on whites and Hispanics at the fair itself, in neighboring West Allis and spilling over into nearby parts of Milwaukee, drew attention from anti-crime activists nationwide. The intention of police and prosecutors to treat the attacks as "hate crimes" has also gotten national attention on both sides - those for the enhancements and against them have been vocal about the matter.

What Is A Hate Crime Enhancement?

To call something a "hate crime" is somewhat of a misnomer under Wisconsin law; there isn't a specific law that prevents the criminal act of "hate." There are, however, provisions of the law - found in Wisconsin Statute Section 939.645, the "penalty for crimes committed against certain people or property" statute - allow for greater penalties to be given to those who commit a crime against a victim selected "in whole or in part because of the" offender's opinions about the victim's:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • National origin
  • Ancestry

The enhanced penalty provisions also apply to property crimes, if the accused criminal targeted the owner or occupier of the property for one of the reasons listed above.

If the enhancements of § 939.645 are requested and proven in the prosecution of a defendant, the penalties for the underlying crime are much more substantial. For example, the regular punishment for a Class B misdemeanor conviction is a fine of no more than $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail; if the same act is classified as a hate crime, however, the fine can instead be as much as $10,000 and the jail term as long as one year.

With so much more at stake with conviction on a hate crime, a skilled legal defense is imperative. If you or a loved one has been charged with a Wisconsin crime and is facing the possibility of enhanced penalties under the hate crime statute, seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.