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 2009, 18 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]