What is a hate crime?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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A hate crime is an offense that indicates the perpetrator is biased against a particular sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, religion, or other social group. Hate crimes are also called bias crimes. Almost any type of offense against another person can be classified as a hate crime. An offense can be a hate crime under both state and federal law.

When an individual accused of committing a hate crime is acquitted in state court, the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution does not protect them from prosecution in federal court. The concept of dual sovereignty holds that a state government and a federal government are separate entities with separate laws. This means an individual can be charged for the same act twice, in state and federal court.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA)

In 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also commonly known as HCPA. HCPA amended several existing statutes, including the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Law and the 1969 Federal Hate Crimes Law. HCPA added categories of protected persons, such as victims targeted because of their sexual orientation or disability. HCPA dropped the requirement that a victim of a hate crime must be engaged in a federally protected activity such as voting or attending school.

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Classification and Statutes

A hate crime can be classified as a misdemeanor or felony. Some common types of hate crimes are destruction of property, assault, battery, arson, trespassing, and stalking. A hate crime can also be committed by a juvenile, in which case it is classified as a delinquent act. The federal government and some states have hate crime penalty enhancement statutes. These laws raise the penalties for hate crimes as opposed to crimes involving the same offense, but not targeted at a member of a protected group. The purpose of penalty enhancement statutes is to lessen the number of hate crimes.

The federal government and most state governments view hate crimes as being more destructive than crimes involving the same offense but not targeting members of protected groups. Statistics from a variety of research studies indicate that victims of hate crimes, both individuals and communities, suffer more severe effects than victims of similar crimes.

Defenses for Hate Crime Charges

Defenses for a hate crime are similar to defenses for crimes that do not target members of protected groups. The only additional defense for a hate crime goes to the defendant’s intent. If a criminal defense attorney is able to show that a defendant was not biased against the victim because the victim was a member of a protected class, the attorney has established reasonable doubt that the defendant did not commit a hate crime. However, the defendant may still have committed a crime.

Penalties and Consequences of Hate Crime

The range of penalties for hate crime varies widely depending on the severity of the crime. Some penalties are death, incarceration, fines, compensation to the victim, and completion of anti-racism or anger management programs. A hate crime on an individual’s criminal record has the potential to negatively affect employment, eligibility for federal aid under certain programs, housing, and numerous other facets of their life. In addition, defendants in hate crime cases often suffer a stigma akin to defendants in sexual assault cases and many are viewed as risks in residential communities.

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Getting Help

If you are accused of committing a hate crime, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney. Look at the state and federal statutes under which you have been charged and consult with your lawyer on the best course of action. Lastly, determine how you will work with trained professionals to declare your innocence or re-integrate yourself into society after you have completed your sentence.

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