Hate Crimes and The Mitchell v. Wisconsin Decision

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Hate Crimes and The Mitchell v. Wisconsin Decision

The American Heritage Dictionary defines hate as intense dislike or animosity. However, defining hate as the basis for a crime is not as easy without possibly jeopardizing constitutional rights in the process. Hate crime laws generally add enhanced punishments to existing statues. A hate crime law seeks to treat a crime, if it can be demonstrated that the offense was a hate crime differently from the way it would be treated under ordinary criminal law. Since the 1980s, the problem of hate crimes has attracted increasing research attention, especially from criminologists and law enforcement personnel who have focused primarily on documenting the prevalence of the problem and formulation criminal justice responses to it. Lawmakers have passed legislation to encourage data collection and attach enhanced penalties to hate crimes at both state and federal levels.

When Americans are assaulted merely because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, or disability, the law should be as tough on their assailants as it currently is tough on criminals who attack based on racial, religious, or ethnic bias. Yet only in rare circumstances can the federal government investigate and prosecute hate violence against gays, lesbians, or bisexuals. Attempts have been made to reach a definition of hate crime, including that it is a crime, most commonly violence, motivated by prejudice, bias or hatred towards a particular group of which the victim is rarely significant to the offender and is most commonly a stranger to him or her. The current law (18 U.S.C. 245) permits federal prosecution of a hate crime only if the crime was motivated by bias based on race, religion, national origin, or color, and the assailant intended to prevent the victim from exercising a "federally protected right" (e.g. voting, attending school, etc.) This dual requirement substantially limits the potential for federal assistance in investigating or prosecuting hate crimes, even when the crime is particularly heinous.

Hate crimes demand a priority response because of their special emotional and psychological impact on the victim and the victims’ community. The damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents. Hate crimes may effectively intimidate other members of the vi...

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