Justification for Hate Crime Laws
A hate crime resembles no other crime. The effects of hate crime reach beyond the immediate victim or institution and can damage society and fragment communities.
Paul M. Sanderson, commander of NYC's
Bias Crime Unit
THE NEW HATE CRIME laws have been enacted for essentially symbolic reasons. However, once enacted, they must be defended against charges that they are unnecessary, unfair, and unconstitutional. Sophisticated jurisprudential rationales, frequently dependent on and bolstered by social science studies, emerge in the course of litigation and are elaborated, honed, and polished in the hands of appellate lawyers, judges, and professors. In this chapter, we examine and critique the most frequently offered justifications for hate crime laws. In chapter 8, we will take up the question of constitutionality.
The principle that, holding conduct constant, punishment should be calibrated to the offender's culpability and blameworthiness is axiomatic in the criminal law. This principle is illustrated by the differing punishments for homicides. Offenders who cause death are punished along a continuum depending upon whether they acted negligently, recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally. Criminals who kill intentionally are the most culpable and are punished the most severely. Not surprisingly, defenders of hate crime legislation argue that more severe penalties for crimi