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Best federal criminal trial lawyer explains the Federal Hate Crimes statute

by | Nov 13, 2022 | Firm News

A best federal criminal lawyer explains the Federal “Hate Crime” statute. It can be found at 18 U.S.C., section 249. The first part of the statute applies to those who are members of law enforcement, as well as those who are not. In other words, this portion of the federal Hate Crimes statute is not limited to those acting “under color of law.”
This part of the statute makes it a federal crime for one to “willfully” cause bodily injury to another based upon the victim’s actual or “perceived” race, color, religion, or national origin. So, in the first instance, this part of the Federal Hates Crimes statute identifies the class of victims protected against bodily injury from a hate crime. However, interestingly, the victim need not actually fall within one of those protected classes or categories because it still makes the defendant criminally culpable if the defendant wrongfully perceived the victim as falling within one of those protected classes.
Moreover, this portion of the statute makes it a federal crime if no bodily injury is actually cause, if, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive incendiary device, the defendant “attempts” to cause bodily injury to a victim who is protected under this portion of the statute.
The potential punishment for a conviction under this first section of the federal Hates Crimes statute is a term of imprisonment of not more than 10 years. However, if death results from the defendant’s actions, the defendant can receive up to a life sentence. A term of imprisonment, up to a life sentence, can similarly be imposed if the offense conduct includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, or aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.
The second section of the federal Hate Crimes Act broadens the class of potential victims. That section expands it victim coverage to include not only hate crimes based upon a victim’s actual or perceived religion or national origin, but also includes hate crime victims targeted based upon actual or pereceived  gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
However, that second part of the federal Hate Crimes Act limits the types of circumstances that can form the basis for federal hate crime prosecutions such that the criminal conduct must occur during the course of, or as the result of, the travel of the defendant or the victim: 1) across a State line or national border; 2) or by use of a channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce; 3) or by the defendant’s use of channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in connection; 4) or if defendant uses a firearm, dangerous weapon, explosive or incendiary device, or some other weapon that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce; 5) or the defendant’s actions interferes with commercial or economic activity hat the victim is engaged in at the time of the defendant’s actions; 6) or, as a catch-all, the defendant’s actions affect interstate or foreign commerce.
Interestingly, the federal Hates Crimes statute even has some applications to maritime offenses. It also addresses the conduct of lynching, as well as conspiracies to commit hate crimes.

By way of the federal Hate Crimes Act, Congress clearly intended to open the door to additional hate crimes prosecutions, and to address the problem of State law enforcement authorities not doing even to prosecute hate crimes. Nonetheless, Congress was also clearly mindful that federal prosecutors should not push out or usurp State law prosecutions for hate crimes. Thus, the statute has a unique requirement that not only requires that all federal hate crime prosecutions be undertaken pursuant to “Guidelines” issued the United States Attorney General’s Office, but that no prosecutions shall be undertaken under the Federal Hate Crimes Act unless and until the Attorney General’s Office certifies that State law enforcement does not have jurisdiction over the conduct at issue, and remarkably, that the State has requested federal prosecutors to assume jurisdiction and thus prosecute the defendant’s conduct under the Federal Hate Crimes Act.

Additional posts will address actual federal prosecutions that have employed the Federal Hate Crimes statute.

Written by Michael Leonard

Leonard Trial Lawyers

November 13, 2022