Hate Crime Law & Legal Definition


A hate crime is usually defined by state law as one that involves threats, harassment, or physical harm and is motivated by prejudice against someone's race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability. Laws vary by state and if hate crimes are provided for by statute, the defintions of hate crimes and penalties imposed vary. States that have hate crime statutes provide harsher penalites for such offenses.

The underlying criminal offenses that are designated in hate crime laws include, but are not limited to, crimes against persons like harassment, terroristic threats, assault and crimes against property like criminal trespass, criminal mischief and arson. It may also include vandalism causing damage to a church, synagogue, cemetery, mortuary, memorial to the dead, school, educational facility, community center, municipal building, courthouse, juvenile detention center, grounds surrounding such places or personal property located within such places.

The current federal law regarding hate crimes deals with crimes where the offender is motivated by bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity/national origin. 

The following is an example of a state statute governing hate crimes:

  1. The Legislature finds and declares the following:
  1. It is the right of every person, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, to be secure and protected from threats of reasonable fear, intimidation, harassment, and physical harm caused by activities of groups and individuals.
  2. It is not the intent, by enactment of this section, to interfere with the exercise of rights protected by the Constitution of the State of Alabama or the United States.
  3. The intentional advocacy of unlawful acts by groups or individuals against other persons or groups and bodily injury or death to persons is not constitutionally protected when violence or civil disorder is imminent, and poses a threat to public order and safety, and such conduct should be subjected to criminal sanctions.

b. The purpose of this section is to impose additional penalties where it is shown that a perpetrator committing the underlying offense was motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.

c. A person who has been found guilty of a crime, the commission of which was shown beyond a reasonable doubt to have been motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, shall be punished as follows:

  1. Felonies:
  1. On conviction of a Class A felony that was found to have been motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, the sentence shall not be less than 15 years.
  2. On conviction of a Class B felony that was found to have been motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, the sentence shall not be less than 10 years.
  3. On conviction of a Class C felony that was found to have been motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, the sentence shall not be less than two years.
  4. For purposes of this subdivision, a criminal defendant who has been previously convicted of any felony and receives an enhanced sentence pursuant to this section is also subject to enhanced punishment under the Alabama Habitual Felony Offender Act, Section 13A-5-9.

2. Misdemeanors:

On conviction of a misdemeanor which was found beyond a reasonable doubt to have been motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability, the defendant shall be sentenced for a Class A misdemeanor, except that the defendant shall be sentenced to a minimum of three months.