Jesse Harris recently pleaded guilty for his involvement in the fatal 2015 beating of a Guatemalan-American Onesimo Marcelino. He is the last of three men who were accused of the crime. Harris pleaded guilty to the aggravated battery while committing evidence of prejudice. Essentially, this is an aggravating factor that is applied to criminal cases in which racial or other forms of discrimination or hatred are the prime motivating factors for the commission of the crime.
Harris is very lucky. He could have easily been charged with felony murder and spent the rest of his life behind bars. This plea deal offers him an opportunity to do eight years, four of which he has already been credited for. As you can imagine, the victim’s family was not pleased with the deal offered by prosecutors.
Harris was accused by Jupiter police of “Guat hunting” in which they targeted South American immigrants including Guatemalans for robbery and beatings. David Harris, Jesse’s older brother, was sentenced to life in prison while a third man was convicted of second-degree murder while committing evidence of prejudice and given twenty years.
Committing Evidence of Prejudice
Evidencing prejudice in the committing of crime is exactly what it sounds like it is. Crimes committed against the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, and women are not automatically considered hate crimes under the law, however.
Florida Statutes 775.085 defines evidencing prejudice as:
…prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim…
Evidence of prejudice causes the crime to be prosecuted one degree higher than it otherwise would be. In other words, a Class B misdemeanor would be reclassified as a Class A misdemeanor, a Class A misdemeanor would be reclassified as a third-degree felony. A first-degree felony would be reclassified as a life felony.
However, the question of whether prejudice has to be the sole or prime motivating factor or merely an element of the crime depends on case law and the judge’s own personal interpretation of the law.
In this case, it wasn’t difficult to get convictions because the defendants sought out those of a minority status to attack and rob.
A Look at the Plea Deal
In cases like these where three defendants are accused of committing one crime, it often happens that defense attorneys will organize a structured plea. You have one ringleader who is primarily charged with the crime while the two others get lesser, but still significant, sentences. In this case, Jesse Harris was the youngest of the three and was able to use that to his advantage. Since he was involved in a death that occurred during the commission of a felony, he could be looking at life in prison.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
Have you been charged with a crime? The West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. can help you build your defense against the charges. Contact us today for more information.