Hate crime laws in the United States

Hate crime laws in the United States (also known as bias crimes) protect against crimes motivated by enmity or animus against a protected class. Although state and federal laws vary, typical protected characteristics are race, religion, ethnicity, and nationality. Sometimes gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability are included as well.

Federal law

The current statutes permit federal prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, or nation origin when engaging in a federally protected activity (see 1969 law, infra). Legislation is currently pending that would add gender, sexual orientation, gender-identity, and disability to this list, as well as remove the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity (see attempted expansion, infra). The U.S. Department of Justice/FBI, as well as campus security authorities, are required to collect and publish hate crime statistics (see Hate Crime Statistics Act, infra and Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act, infra).

Federal prosecution of hate crimes

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994)

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted in note Sec. 280003, requires the United States Sentencing Commission to increase the penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person. In 1995, the Sentencing Commission implemented these guidelines, which only apply to federal crimes.

Matthew Shepard Act (under consideration)

On May 3, 2007, the House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Act (officially, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, or LLEHCPA), HR 1592, which would expand existing United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and which would drop the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity. Similar legislation passed in the Senate on September 27, 2007 but President Bush has indicated he may veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. This would be President Bush's tenth veto.

The LLEHCPA has been introduced in substantially similar form in each Congress since the 105th Congress in 1999, but has never made it into law. The 2007 bill expands on the earlier versions (originally called the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act) by including transgender provisions and making it explicit that the law should not be interpreted to restrict people's freedom of speech or association.

Data collection statutes

Hate Crime Statistics Act

The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 , requires the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The bill was signed into law in 1990 by George H. W. Bush, and was the first federal statute to "recognize and name gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Since 1992, the Department of Justice and the FBI have jointly published an annual report on hate crime statistics.

In 1994 Congress expanded the scope to include crimes based on disability, and in 1996 Congress permanently reauthorized the Act.

Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act of 1997

The Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act of 1997, (f)(1)(F)(ii)], requires campus security authorities to collect and report data on hate crimes committed on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability.

State laws

45 states and the District of Columbia have statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation (the exceptions are AR, GA, IN, SC, and WY). Each of these statutes covers bias on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity; 32 of them cover sexual orientation; 32 cover disability; 28 cover gender; 13 cover age; 11 cover transgender/gender-identity; 5 cover political affiliation.

31 states and the District of Columbia have statutes creating a civil cause of action, in addition to the criminal penalty, for similar acts.

27 states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics; 16 of these cover sexual orientation.

Prevalence of hate crimes

The DOJ and the FBI have kept statistics on hate crimes since 1992 in accordance with the Hate Crime Statistics Act. According to these reports, of the over 113,000 hate crimes since 1991, 55% were motivated by racial bias, 17% by religious bias, 14% sexual orientation bias, 14% ethnicity bias, and 1% disability bias.

For example, in 2004, there were 7,649 criminal hate crime incidents, out of 1,367,009 violent crimes. In perspective, in 2003 there were 4,500 accidental workplace fatalities and 13,900 fatalities due to accidental poisoning.

Hate crime laws debate

Debate over hate crime laws Penalty-enhancement hate crime laws are traditionally justified on the grounds that, in Chief Justice Rehnquist's words, "this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm.... bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest.

Some people object to penalty-enhancement and federal prosecution laws because they believe they offer preferred protection to certain individuals over others. There is less opposition to data collection statutes.

See also


External links

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