A hate crime is one that is motivated by the alleged offender’s bias. These offenses are not separate types of conduct, but rather are behaviors prohibited under the law, such as murder or assault. What elevates such conduct to the status of a hate crime is when the reason it was perpetrated was because of the alleged victim’s actual or perceived membership in a protected class.
Depending on the circumstances, hate crimes can fall under either federal or state jurisdiction.
What Is a Federal Hate Crime?
Since 1968, the U.S. government has had a federal hate crime law in place. The initial statute prohibited people from using or threatening to use force against someone because of the alleged victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.
In 2009, legislation was passed, expanding the definition of a federal hate crime. It added that it is an offense to engage in unlawful conduct against another person because of that individual’s gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
In addition to those two laws, the federal government also passed the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. The law states that a person may be charged with a crime for damaging or destroying religious property, such as a church, or preventing anyone from practicing their religion when it affects interstate commerce.
The federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute a hate crime when:
- The State does not have the authority to take legal action,
- The State asks for the federal government’s help,
- The conviction under State law does not prevent the federal government from pursuing the case, or
- The federal government’s involvement is necessary to keep peace and ensure justice
What Are the Punishments for a Federal Hate Crime?
The penalties a person may face for being found guilty of a hate crime that falls under federal jurisdiction depend on the circumstances.
If the offender caused or attempted to cause bodily injury because of the alleged victim’s perceived standing in a protected class, they could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or be fined. If death resulted, the prison term increases to up to life.
If the offense involved the destruction of religious property, the offender could be sentenced as follows:
- Up to life in prison or death if anyone died as a result of the commission of the act
- Up to 40 years in prison if fire or explosives were used in the commission of the offense and anyone was injured as a result
- Up to 20 years in prison if anyone was injured or a dangerous weapon, fire, or explosives were used, attempted to be used, or threatened to be used
- Up to 3 years in prison if the act caused more than $5,000 in property damage
- Up to 1 year in prison in all other cases
What’s a State Hate Crime?
In Texas, the definition of a hate crime is similar to the federal one.
Under Texas law, a crime of bias is committed when a victim is targeted because of their:
- Sexual orientation,
- National origin,
- Gender, or
- Sexual preference
What Are the Penalties for a Hate Crime in Texas?
If someone commits a hate crime, the conviction penalties are increased to those of the next higher level of offense. For instance, if someone committed assault by threatening another with bodily injury, they could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. However, if the offense was motivated by bias, the charge is elevated to a Class B misdemeanor.
The increased penalties don’t apply to first-degree felony or Class A misdemeanor charges. In the case of Class A misdemeanors, the minimum term of imprisonment is 180 days.