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What is a hate crime?

Law enforcement is cracking down on perpetrators of violence who are motivated by racial or ethnic reasons. However, a lot of misinformation remains on what constitutes a hate crime is and what type of penalties follow these offenses. The Washington Post aims clear up this confusion by answering commonly asked questions about hate crimes.

What is the definition of a hate crime?

According to federal statute, a hate crime is defined as a criminal offense that is accompanied by some sort of bias. This bias can focus on race/ethnicity, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender/gender identiy and disability. Additionally, hate crimes that center on a person’s disability must also have a link to interstate commerce.

Do racial slurs during an attack constitute a hate crime?

If a perpetrator of violence uses racial slurs against the victim, it’s not always a surefire indication that a hate crime has taken place. For instance, the aggressor may have chosen the victim for other reasons and used this speech as a means to intimidate or as a method of expressing anger. However, racial slurs can be used as evidence if an attorney is pursuing a hate crime charge.  

Do hate crimes always have an effect on sentencing?

Federal law stipulates that a hate crime conviction should entail a 40 percent increase in sentence as a general rule. While state hate crime laws can vary quite a bit, many states choose to inflict harsher penalties when bias is a motivator during a crime. Some states consider all bias crimes as felonies, even if the underlying charge would be considered less serious (such as acts of vandalism).

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