hate crime

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A hate crime is a criminal act motivated by another person's (usually the victim's) race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It is also called a bias crime. A hate crime can be a crime committed against a person, property, or society as a whole. 

Hate crimes have been defined in detail in the Hate Crimes Act also known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 200918 U.S. Code § 249.

49 states and territories actually have codified hate crime laws; however, they vary. The California Penal Code §422.6(a) prohibits the interference of someone's rights on the basis of a protected characteristic, as defined by law. Such hate crimes are punishable by a county jail sentence of up to a year and/or a fine of $5,000.

For more information on hate crimes please see: The Department of Justice hate crime prevention and enforcement website (justice.gov/hatecrimes), the 2021 DOJ Facts and Statistics on hate crimes, FBI Hate Crimes Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bias-Motivated/Hate Crime webpage, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team