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What Are Hate Crimes?

Hate crimes are defined in a variety if different ways. Hate crimes, also known as bias motivated crimes are crimes that are motivated in whole or in part by a bias or prejudice against protected groups. For example, if a person is murdered or lynched because they are African American, the murder is a hate crime. Different states protect different groups, but some of the most common groups are race and religion.

What Groups Are Usually Protected?

The FBI definition of hate crime includes race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and ethnicity/national origin. Different states protect different groups. Some statistics as to what groups are covered are:

  • 21 states protect mental and physical disability (including California, New York, and Illinois)
  • 29 states and the District of Columbia protect sexual orientation
  • 17 states do no explicitly protect sexual orientation (including Colorado, Georgia, and Michigan)
  • 4 states do not have hate crime laws (Arkansas, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming)
  • 3 states and the District of Columbia provide for tougher penalties for crimes based on political affiliation

What Are the Penalties for Hate Crimes?

Most states provide for penalty enhancements for hate crimes. A penalty enhancement increases the penalty for a crime. So, if you assault someone because they are Chinese and this assault is determined to be a hate crime, the penalty for the crime will be increased. The amount of enhancement varies from state to state. The purpose of tougher penalties for hate crimes is to deter others by showing people that those who commit hate crimes will be treated severely. The Supreme Court has held that penalty enhancements are Constitutional.

Other Facts about Hate Crimes

In addition to penalty enhancements, many states allow for civil cases as the result of a hate crime. To learn about the differences between the civil and criminal systems, click here. Also, many states have institutional vandalism statutes, which provide for tougher penalties for vandalism of houses of worship, cemeteries, schools, and community centers.

What to Do if You're the Victim of a Hate Crime

If you are the victim of a crime, you should call the police. This is especially true if you believe the crime was motivated by a bias or prejudice. If the police feel there is enough evidence, they will go forward and present the case to the District Attorney's office in order to prosecute the person who committed the crime against you.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Anytime you are accused of any crime, you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights and defenses. Just because a crime was committed, it was not necessarily a hate crime. An experienced lawyer can defend your rights and help you with the complicated legal system.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 08-23-2016 03:30 PM PDT

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