“It’s a complicated matter because you have to get into that person’s mind, into that person’s heart, that person’s motivations," said State Attorney of the 15th Judicial Circuit Dave Aronberg.
On Friday, 64-year old Richard Lloyd attempted to set a convenience store on fire in Fort Pierce. He told investigators later he did it to "run the Arabs out of our country".
Llyod has been booked into jail for first degree arson on a $30,000 bond but so far he hasn't been charged with a hate crime.
The Port St. Lucie Sheriff's Office said the case is currently under investigation by the State Attorney's Office.
While St. Lucie County is not part of Aronberg's jurisdiction, he explained that prosecutors have to prove a crime was committed because of a person's bias against another person based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or homeless status.
For example, it might be simple to prove that someone said something racist but it's another matter to prove that's what caused the crime.
Hate crime is not a separate crime but an enhancement of a crime.
“Battery is a crime, vandalism is a crime," Aronberg said. "A hate crime takes it to the next level. It increases the penalty. It increases the charge.”
Llyod, who has a long record of mental illness, remains in custody on Monday and is undergoing mental health evaluations.
“You have to determine if something was prompted by someone’s feelings of hate towards a certain group or mental illness," Aronberg said.
According to state statistics, hate crimes in Florida were up by almost 40 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.
Although statistics for 2016 are not out yet, Aronberg said his office has noticed an increase recently.
“We hear anecdotally that there has been an uptick and we’ve seen it and heard it out there," Aronberg said.
The State Attorney's Office in West Palm Beach has a special prosecutor for hate crimes.
Aronberg also said what someone said in person or on social media can be used as evidence in a hate crime case.