Governor Polis signs bias-motivated crimes bill
Updated: Jul 8
The bill amends Colorado’s Bias-motivated Crime Statute to allow the charging and conviction of hate crime perpetrators that have mixed motives.
On June 28, 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 21-280 that concerns bias-motivated crimes. The bill gives additional protections to victims through the criminal justice process such that to classify a bias-motivated crime, the bias motivation only needs to be part of the defendant’s motivation in committing the crime. The bill sponsors included: Senator Rhonda Fields, Senator John Cooke, Representative Mike Weissman, and Representative Matt Soper.
During the signing at the Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC), Polis said, “Hate and bias motivated crimes are offenses we want to stamp out in the state of Colorado. No one should ever live in fear of who they are or what they believe. This is vital to our efforts to build an inclusive Colorado for all.”
Nga Vương-Sandoval, who testified for the bill in May, said, “As a Vietnamese refugee, Asian American, and advocate for underrepresented communities, SB 21-280 is personal and significant to me.” Vương-Sandoval is the Refugee Congress Delegate for Colorado.
She continued, “I belong to communities that have historically and continue to be targets of bias-motivated crimes. I was compelled to provide my input and testimony after witnessing the upsurge to hate crimes recently. Our Asian community has experienced unprecedented harassment, violence, and deaths solely based upon our ethnicity since the onset of the pandemic.”
During her testimony, Vương-Sandoval shared her personal and professional experience regarding bias-motivated crimes. As a criminal justice professional, she witnessed how it’s a disservice to crime victims when the defendant’s motive was clearly bias-motivated, yet the criminal charges and penalty didn’t reflect the defendant’s bias-motivation due to deficiencies in current criminal statutes.
Vương-Sandoval said, “This bill is one step towards restoring victims of crime by including such charges.”
Senator Rhonda Fields, who was the primary sponsor for the bill, said, “In 2019, the number of bias-motivated harassment has jumped up to 72 percent. I can speak for my community in Aurora. We have a high number of Asian Pacific Islander citizens. We have refugees. We have all kinds of folks that are telling us that they are being harassed based on the color of their skin, religion, ancestry, national origin, their disability or their sexual orientation.”
When District Attorney John Kellner, 18th Judicial District, learned of the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country, he spoke to members of the community and heard about the great fear and concerns the Asian community was experiencing. He and members of his bias motivated crime prosecution team discussed ways in which they might be able to enhance Colorado’s motivated crime or hate crime statutes.
“Bias-motivated harassment may sound on the lower end of the spectrum of criminal offenses, but it has such a dramatic impact on so many people in addition to just the primary victim of the crime,” said Kellner. “And what this bill does is it takes the bias-motivated harassment and makes it a Victim’s Right Act crime, which entitles those victims to additional rights under the law and entitles them to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.”
Brian Sugioka, Chief Deputy District Attorney, 18th Judicial District also testified for the bill, by providing an example of the inadequacies of the previous statute. The incident involved a customer who went into a phone store and made threats and used derogatory racial terms towards the employee.
“Now, clearly the primary motivation for that individual to come into the store, was that he was mad about his cell phone, but it was very clear that the fact that the clerk was a member of a minority, it made him feel more liberty to speak down to that person and to speak and act in the manner that he did.”
“This is a crime that could not be prosecuted under the existing version of the bias motivated crime statute because the primary motive was not ethnic bias or racial bias - this amendment would allow us to prosecute an offense like that at a higher level than we otherwise could.”
For more information or to read the bill, visit leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb21-280.