When you hear the term “hate crimes,” you may get images of churches burning, innocent people being attacked on the streets because of their sexual orientation, people being beaten because of their religious affiliation, and others being physically harmed because of their disabilities. If these are the pictures that come to mind, you’re on the right track.
But what is a “hate crime” exactly? How is it defined in a legal sense? A hate crime involves traditional crimes, such as arson, assault, sexual assault, and murder; however, what sets hate crimes apart from the rest is they’re motivated by hate instead of the usual reasons behind crimes, such as drugs, territory, gangs, money, and passion (e.g. murder).
Hate crimes are motivated by hate for a certain race. Hate for a specific ethnic group. Hate for a sexual orientation. Hate because of someone’s religious affiliation – you get the picture. What Hitler did to the Jewish people during World War II involved hate crimes but on steroids. Another example of hate crimes is the lynching of thousands of blacks during the late 19th century, mostly of which occurred in the South.
Are Hate Crimes Prosecuted in Federal Court?
Hate crimes can be prosecuted on the state or federal level. In many cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will get involved and when it does, it doesn’t act alone. The FBI will enlist the support of local and state authorities to aid in its investigations. Even if federal charges are not brought against the defendant, the FBI will step in so local authorities can tap into the agency’s resources, forensic technology, and vast knowledge of hate-motivated crimes.
Many hate crimes are prosecuted on the state level for crimes, such as arson, assault and murder. However, once the state is investigating the case, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will often get involved and oversee the investigation to ensure everything is handled correctly.
The FBI may send over its completed reports to the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice so it can decide if a federal prosecution is necessary. The FBI may also forward a case to the DOJ if the local authorities can’t handle a case because it was based on the offender’s bias against the victim due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
In many situations, a hate crime is a Civil Rights violation, but not always. If a hate crime was targeted against the American people, it will be classified as a domestic terrorism. In these cases, you can bet the FBI will be intimately involved.
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