State Hate Crime Laws

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 28, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Laws can vary from state to state, and criminal statutes especially may differ once you cross state (or even city or county) lines. While the federal government updated its hate crime legislation in 2009 -- adding crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability -- some states still lack hate crime statutes entirely, and those that do have them can be unique in exactly what they criminalize and what the punishments for those crimes are.

So here is a quick review of some state hate crime laws, what's covered, what's not, and what the possible punishments may be.

State Hate Statutes

Journalism student project News21 took a look at hate crime legislation nationwide, finding that, while 45 states have some kind of hate crime laws, the specific provisions can vary significantly:

Most designate race, religion and national origin as motivations for hate crimes. However, 13 states do not include sexual orientation, and 33 do not include gender identity. Laws in California, Iowa and West Virginia include political affiliation as a consideration in defining hate crimes. Other states have recently added designations for law enforcement, the homeless and disabled people.

And while some states have distinct hate crime sections, other allow for sentencing enhancements if a crime was committed with a racial, gender, sexual orientation, or other bias. Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming currently do not have laws that specifically criminalize hate or bias-motivated crime. (Georgia did have a statute prohibiting crimes on a basis of "bias or prejudice," but it was struck down for being unconstitutionally vague.) And the Salt Lake City District Attorney says he has never successfully brought a hate-crime prosecution, as the state law merely prohibits crimes committed "with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person."

Hate and Crime

Despite those deficiencies, some states and cities have expanded their existing hate crimes laws. California added homeless persons to the list of protected classes under state hate crime statutes in 2012. Philadelphia increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2014. And Louisiana made it a hate crime to target police officers.

For information on local hate crime statutes, contact a criminal attorney in your area.

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