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

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A white man travels to one company and kills many workers. Then more people were killed in a similar act.

Six of the eight people he killed were Asian women, leading many to demand that he be charged under the law. New country law for hate crimes. Authorities fight back, saying they are unsure whether racial prejudice was the motive behind the man’s crimes.

This is the situation It is unfolding in the Atlanta area of ​​Georgia, now. But there is often a gap between public opinion and law enforcement when people believe a hate crime has been committed, whether against homosexuals, ethnic minorities, or the Jewish people.

Hate crimes and hate crimes are on the rise across the United States, but long-term poll data indicate that most Americans are on the rise. Terrified of bias-motivated violence. It also supports hate crime legislation, in an effort to deter such attacks.

However, officials often resist the rapid categorization of incidents as hate crimes. Hate crimes have specific characteristics that must be met in order to meet legal requirements. Even when police and prosecutors believe that elements of a hate crime exist, it can be difficult to prove such crimes in court. What is a hate crime?

I have studied I hate crime and the police for over 20 years.

Hate crimes are crimes motivated by a bias based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or race. In some states, gender, age, and gender identity are also included. Hate crime laws have been passed in 47 states and the federal government since the 1980s, when activists first began Pressuring state legislatures to recognize the role of prejudice in violence against minorities. Today, only Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming do not have hate crime laws.

In order for people to be charged as a hate crime, attacks – whether assault, murder, or vandalism – must be directed against individuals due to prohibited prejudices. In other words, hate crimes punish the motive; The prosecutor must convince the judge or jury that the victim was targeted because of her race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protective characteristic.

If the defendant is found to have acted out of prejudice, hate crimes often add an additional penalty to the primary charge. Accusing people of a hate crime, then, It introduces additional layers of complexity Why otherwise would be a direct case for prosecutors. Motivation for bias can be difficult to prove, and prosecutors may hesitate to do so Take situations where they may not be victorious In court.

It could happen and actually happen. In June 2020, Shepard Hoyne placed a burning cross and a placard with insults and racist epithets facing the construction site where his new neighbor, Black, was building a house.

He was charged and later pleaded guilty Federal hate crime charges In Indiana. A few months later, a federal jury found Morris Dejens guilty of a 2018 hate crime for breaking the jaw of a Sudanese man in Maine. While shouting racist titles.

How to accuse a hate crime

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

Soon, states began to pass their own laws recognizing crimes of bias. But the hate crime law did not lead to as many charges and convictions as activists had hoped.

Law enforcement agencies are struggling to identify hate crimes and prosecute the perpetrators. Although 47 states have hate crime laws, 86.1% of law enforcement agencies report the FBI that there is not a single hate crime. Signed in its jurisdiction in 2019, According to the most recent FBI data collected.

In many cases, the police received it Insufficient training In the classification of hate crimes.

“What weights are you giving to sweat, steroids, and area? These things are 90% gray – no black and white accidents,” he said A 20-year veteran police officer in a 1996 study of hate crimes.

But I also found that police departments are rarely organized in a way that allows them to develop Experience needed to effectively investigate hate crimes. When police departments have specialized police units and public prosecutors Committed to Hate Crime, They can develop routines that allow them to investigate hate crimes in a way that supports victims.

In the late 1990s, a police unit specializing in hate crimes in a city I called, for the purposes of anonymity, was “Downtown.” My study revealed that these investigators can distinguish non-hate crimes – for example, when a perpetrator angrily used the n-word in a fight – from situations that are truly hate crimes, such as when a perpetrator used them during a targeted attack on lions. Person.

Without proper training and organizational structure, officers are not clear about common signs of motivation for prejudice, and tend to assume that they must make extraordinary efforts to find out why suspects have committed the crime.

“We don’t have time for psychoanalysis of people,” the same veteran police officer said in 1996.

Even law enforcement officers specifically trained in identifying bias crimes still do not label the incidents as hate crimes. For the general public, it’s clearly driven by bias. This may be a result of police bias.

Limits of the law

Advocates for hate crime victims confirm this Police and prosecutors can do much more than that To define and punish hate crimes.

Empirical evidence supports their claims. The 2019 FBI report contains Law enforcement agencies reported 8,559 bias crimes. But in the National Survey of Crime Victims, victims say they have suffered, on average, Over 200,000 hate crimes every year. This indicates that the police are missing many of the hate crimes that have occurred.

Distrust of the police, Especially in black societies, may discourage minorities from calling the police when they fall victim to hate crimes for fear of becoming too Victims of police violence.

All of this means that perpetrators of hate crimes may not be arrested and may recur, further hurting the societies that hate crime laws are supposed to protect.

Hate crime laws reflect American ideals of fairness, justice, and fairness. But if prejudice crimes are not reported, thoroughly investigated, charged, or brought to trial, then it doesn’t matter much what state law says.

Jinin Bell Professor of law at the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University

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