Origin of the statute
Hate crimes are criminal activities motivated partly or entirely by the hostility of the perpetrator who perceives the victim differently (Jacobs & Potter, 2000). These crimes have great impact on the immediate victim and the group to which that victim belongs. Biases against the victim’s ethnicity, sexuality, debility, dialectal, or religion facilitate to commit hate crime. Hate crime statutes aim at stopping bias-motivated outrages. The federal and states have adopted hate crime laws in order to increase penalties for these criminal activities.
In the United States, hate crime statues began early in 1968. After the civil war in America, Senate passed the first hate crime law (Jacobs & Potter, 2000). In 1968, Senate passed the federal law of Title 18 Section 245 of the Civil Rights Act, which allows for hearings on hate crimes for deliberate interference or intimidation of victims based on their national origin, religion, race, or color. In 1978, senate passed the first law on hate crime, which provided for increase in penalties for hate crime perpetrators. This law would prosecute offenders that committed the crime with a bias on the four protected categories of national origin, creed, race, or color.
Changes over time
The elements of hate crime statutes have changed over time with various additions to the laws. Many states have expanded the law by including different elements to the statute. Formerly, the statute included only four categories i.e. religion, race, color and national origin. However, these categories have changed over time. For instance, Washington added ancestry to a law passed in 1981. Later in 1982, Alaska added sexual category, creed, ethnicity, sexuality, and debility to hate crimes.In 1987, California State laws added all possible crimes as hate crime acts such as battery, defacement, intimidation, intimidations, assault, and other lesser crimes. In 1994, Senate passed the HCSEA (HATE CRIME SENTENCING ENHANCEMENT ACT), a legislation thatled to increase of penalties for the perpetrator if the victim could prove bias founded on nationality, debility, sexuality, race, creed, or gender(Jenness & Ryken, 2001). Further, in that year, Senate passed the VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT, which allowed for prosecution and compensation of gender motivated federal crimes. This law increased the definition of hate crime by including gender bias. In 1998, Congress introduced Hate Crimes Prevention Act in an effort to increase the powers of federal officials to investigate hate related crimes. The Senate passed the Act into law in 1999, which increased federal jurisdiction on hate crimes. The Matthew Shepard Act included perceived sexual orientation, gender and disability in 2009 in the hate crime laws to increase further its jurisdiction. Senate has passed several laws to increase penalties for perpetrators of bias motivated crimes. Hate crime legislations haveamplified penalties for actions against the law, but new behavior is not criminalized. In some states, these laws prohibit hate crime while in others the law is a penalty enhancement. There has been little controversy regarding the increase of penalties on hate crimes but adding sexual orientation to the crimes has brought resistance (Bergman & Berman, 2011). Christian groups against homosexuality oppose the adoption of these laws as they believe they will be a hindrance in opposing the vice of homosexuality.
Milestones in the development of hate crime statutes
Hate crime laws have seen latest developments since they became operational. The federal and states have increased penalties on hate crimes through the penalty enhancement. Current federal hate crime statutes lack sexual orientation category, only protecting crimes based on nationality, race, creed, and color.
As of the year 2004, twenty-four states had hate crime statutes that included sexual orientation as a hate crime. Twenty states had hate crime statutes but these did not include sexual orientation as one of the hate crimes, and seven states did not have any hate crime laws at all. Besides these states, the federal hate crime laws do not also include sexual orientation as a hate crime. The laws have developed with about thirty-one states having laws that create civil action and criminal penalties for hate crimes and similar acts including the District of Columbia. Additionally, the District of Columbia and 27 other states have laws requiring the state to gather statistics on hate crimes (Shaw, 2001).
Hate crime statutes have received criticisms from different grounds hindering their development. Opponents argue that these laws prohibit free speech, which may make people fear speaking and expressing their own opinions because these words could be considered hate crimes later and cause prosecution. The law has developed to include equal protection for all. The laws now punish everyone for similar crimes unlike in the past where hate crime laws treated different offenders differently for similar crimes.
A further significant development of the hate crime statute happened in 2009 when President Obama signed the Hate Crime Prevention and the Mathew Shepard Acts. These Acts aimed at expanding the then state laws and including criminal activities driven by the victim’s perceived or actual debility, sexuality, gender and gender identity.
Hate crime law in Texas statutes
The Texas statutes define hate crime laws as laws against people that have a bias or prejudice to certain persons because of their race, religion, color, or national origin. Hate crime occurs when a perpetrator is bias or prejudice motivated to a victim because of actual or perceived membership to certain social groups. These groups could be different from those of the perpetrator of the crime in terms of race, religion, national origin or color. The Texas Hate crime statute, which became effective in September 1993, sanctions increased punishment for crimes where the motivation for the hate crime is prejudice or bias (Newell et al., 2010). The Act provides that if the court finds out that the offender be motivated by bias or prejudice to the victim, then the punishment for the offense increases. The hate crime statute in Texas does not include sexual orientation as an offence under which a victim can sue an offender for committing hate crime.
Definition of the law in Federal statutes
The federal law of 1994 defines hate crime as, “criminal activities where the offender deliberately selects victims based on their actual or perceived color, race, sexuality or creed”. This law did not include gender identity, which refers to transsexuals and transgender. Later in 2009, the federal law defined the hate crime statutes to include gender identity and the crimes motivated by the perpetrators hatred to the group, which the victim belongs. Currently, the federal law includes hate crimes based on race, religion, gender identity, national origin, disability, sexual orientation and gender. The law permits prosecution of people that violate or interfere willingly with another person because of the differences in the eight categories outlined above.
In 1998, a woman sued her boyfriend for the death of their son based on hate crime. In this case, Martinez v. State, the woman claimed that the defendant disliked the son because of his skin color and would often refer to him as little black kid or chinga boy. The defendant admitted to physically hurting the child accidentally when he put him to sleep. The woman accused the boyfriend for physically abusing her son and making the disparaging remarks. However, the court found the defendant guilty of physically injuring a child based on reckless conduct. Pursuant to article 42.014 of the Texas laws, the court found the defendant guilty for committing the crime because of racial prejudice or bias (Newell et al, 2010). The defendant had bias against African-Americans and he perceived that the child was associated to that group of people. Therefore, he committed the crime by inflicting injuries on the child because of the racial differences. The court penalized him for the injuries caused but increased the penalty for racial prejudice.
On September13 2001, a man by the name Michael in Seattle, USA tried to burn down a mosque. In the case, Michael Cunningham v. State, the defendant attempted to ignite two gasoline-filled vehicles parked outside the mosque in order to burn the worshippers. However, some worshippers discovered the man who tried to shoot at them but police intervened and none was harmed. The court found that the defendant intended to burn the mosque in revenge for the September 11 attacks by the Muslims. The defendant had bias against the worshippers because of their association with the terror group, which amounted to hate crime. The court punished the defendant through imprisonment for the intended hate crime.
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Newell, C., Prindle, D.F. &Riddlesperger, J. (2010).Texas Politics. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Shaw, M. (2001). Hate crime legislation and the inclusion of gender: A possible option for
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