Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

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The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (also referred to as the Hate Crimes Act or the Matthew Shepard Act) adopts a definition of hate crime as set forth in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (i.e., a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim or, in the case of a property crime the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person). This Act was passed on October 28, 2009 as a rider to H.R. 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. This 2009 Act represented an expansion to the hate crime laws of 1968 and 1996, as detailed by the Department of Justice, here. Importantly, the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the definition of hate crimes to include gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The law also removed jurisdictional obstacles to prosecutions of race- and religion-motivated violence.

The Act is named after Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., victims of hate crimes. Matthew Shepard was a gay student who was beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998. James Byrd Jr. was an African American man who was murdered by white supremacists in Texas in 1998.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]