What is a Hate Crime?
A hate crime is a criminal act which is motivated by a prejudice against the victim. This prejudice can be against a variety of factors. The specific definition of hate crimes varies by state. The following is not a list of all possible hate crime definitions, nor does it apply in entirety to all states. Some factors which may be the cause of a hate crime include:
- National origin
- Physical or mental disability
- Sexual orientation
The act involved in a hate crime varies by state as well. In some states, certain acts are themselves punishable by law. In other jurisdictions, committing a hate crime will enhance the punishment for an existing crime. The fine or term of imprisonment for the crime in these states will increase if the offense was a hate crime. In other states, hate crimes are not punishable by law. Data may be gathered on the occurrence of hate crimes, but this has no bearing on how the criminal is sentenced.
Crimes that may be considered hate crimes when motivated by prejudice are usually those that are violent or cause serious damage. However, in some states, such as Ohio, hate crimes encompass a much wider range of criminal activities. Actions which may be considered hate crimes, depending on the jurisdiction, include:
- Criminal trespassing
- Criminal mischief
- Telephone harassment
Hate crimes can also be perpetrated against a location rather than an individual. Examples include vandalism of churches, synagogues, schools, community centers, cemeteries or other burial sites, memorials, and courthouses. If these crimes are motivated by a prejudice against the individuals who use the locations, they may be considered hate crimes.
Punishments for Hate Crimes
The punishment for hate crimes varies widely. In some states, hate crimes are not themselves punishable by law. However, in these jurisdictions the underlying crime will be prosecuted. The difference is that the prejudicial motivation behind it will not be taken into consideration. Hate crimes are usually serious offenses punishable by fines and imprisonment.