What is a hate crime? The narrow legal definition makes it hard to charge and convict

A white man travels to a shop and kills several workers. He then kills more people in a similar business.

Six of the eight people he killed are Asian women, leading many people to demand that he be charged on the indictment new state hate crime law. Authorities resist, saying they are not sure whether racial prejudice motivated the man’s crimes.

This is the situation Developing in the Atlanta area of ​​Georgia right now. But there is often a gap between public opinion and law enforcement agencies when people believe a hate crime has been committed, be it against LGBTQ people, racial minorities or Jewish people.

Hate crimes and hate murders are on the rise in the US, but long-term survey data suggests most Americans are appalled at biased violence. They also support hate crime legislation to ward off such attacks.

Still, officials often resist the rush to classify incidents as hate crimes. Hate crimes have precise characteristics that must be met in order to meet legal requirements. And even if the police and prosecutors believe the elements of a hate crime are there, it can be difficult to prove such crimes in court. What is a hate crime?

I studied I’ve hated crime and the police for over 20 years.

Hate crimes are crimes that are motivated by bias based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Some states also include gender, age, and gender identity. Hate crime laws have been passed by 47 states and the federal government since the 1980s when activists started doing so Push state lawmakers to recognize the role of bias in violence against minority groups. Today, only Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming have no hate crime laws.

To be charged as a hate crime, attacks – whether bodily harm, killing or vandalism – must be directed against individuals because of the prohibited prejudice. In other words, hate crimes punish the motive; The prosecutor must convince the judge or the jury that the victim has been attacked on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or other protected characteristic.

If the accused is found to be biased, hate crimes often result in an additional penalty on the underlying charge. Accuse people of a hate crime offers additional levels of complexity to what might otherwise be a straightforward case for prosecutors. Biased motivation can be difficult to prove, and prosecutors are reluctant to do it Take cases where they might not win in court.

However, it can and does happen. In June 2020, Shepard Hoehn placed a burning cross and a sign with racist insults and surnames in front of the construction site where his new neighbor, who is black, was building a house.

Hoehn was charged and later found guilty Federal hate crime charges in Indiana. A few months later, Maurice Diggins was convicted by a federal jury of a 2018 hate crime for breaking the jaw of a Sudanese man in Maine while screaming racist epithets.

How to Indict a Hate Crime

The first use of the term “hate crimes” in federal law was Hate Crime Statistics Act 1990. This was not a criminal law, but a data collection requirement that required the US Attorney General to collect data on crimes that “demonstrate prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.”

Soon states began to pass their own laws recognizing bias crimes. However, hate crime legislation has not resulted in as many charges and convictions as activists have hoped.

Law enforcement agencies struggle to identify hate crimes and prosecute the perpetrators. Although 47 states have laws against hate crimes, 86.1% of law enforcement officials reported to the FBI that it was not a single hate crime had occurred in their jurisdiction in 2019collected according to the latest FBI data.

In many cases, the police received insufficient training in classifying hate crimes.

“What weights do you give race, drugs, territory? These things are 90% gray – there are no black and white incidents, ”he said a 20-year-old police officer in a 1996 study of hate crimes.

But I’ve also found that police departments are rarely organized in such a way that they can develop that Expertise required to investigate hate crimes effectively. When police departments have specialized police units and prosecutors, they are obliged to accept hate crimesthey can develop the routines that enable them to investigate hate crimes in a way that supports the victims.

In the late 1990s, I was studying a specialized police hate crime department in what I named Center City for anonymity reasons. My study found that these detectives were able to distinguish non-hate crimes – for example, if the perpetrator angrily used the n-word in a fight – from cases that are truly hate crimes, such as if the perpetrator did so during a targeted attack on you Black used person.

Without proper training and organizational structure, officials are unclear about common characteristics of bias motivation and assume they will have to go to extraordinary lengths to find out why suspects committed the crime.

“We don’t have time to psychoanalyze people,” said the same veteran policeman in 1996.

Even law enforcement officers specially trained in identifying bias crime still cannot label incidents as hate crimes, the to be obviously biased to the general public. This can be the result of police prejudice.

Limits of the Law

Lawyers for hate crime victims claim so The police and the public prosecutor can do a lot more Identify and punish hate crimes.

Empirical evidence supports their claims. The FBI’s report for 2019 contains 8,559 law enforcement-reported bias crimes. However, in the National Crime Victimization Survey, victims report, on average, that they experienced: More than 200,000 hate crimes each year. This suggests that the police are missing many of the hate crimes that have taken place.

Distrust of the policeIn black communities in particular, minorities can be discouraged from calling the police if they fall victim to hate crimes for fear they may too Victim of police violence.

All of this means that hate crime perpetrators may not be caught and re-insulted, further harassing communities that laws seek to protect against hate crimes.

Hate crime laws reflect the American ideals of fairness, justice, and justice. But when bias-motivated crimes are not reported, well investigated, indicted, or brought to justice, it doesn’t matter what state law says.

Jeannine Bell is Professor of Law at Indiana University’s Mason School of Law

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