The first amendment of the United States Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The only argument to this amendment nowadays is what words are and aren’t classified in these two categories.
The new law, under the Historic Hate Crimes Legislation signed by governor George E. Pataki in July of 2000, defines a hate crime being committed when a person intentionally commits a “specified offense,” such as intimidation, violence, assault, kidnapping, arson murder, or other crimes, against an individual because of his or her race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability, religion or religious practice or sexual orientation. Also addressed in this legislation are the penalties for committing a hate crime, which can be enhanced now. However, the enhancement law only applies to criminal acts such as selecting a victim to commit a crime towards. It does not apply to cases dealing with speech or actions, otherwise known as “hate speech”, because they are protected by the first amendment.
While someone is guilty if he or she performs one of the specified offenses above, this law also insures that only people who are found truly motivated by hatred will be prosecuted. This is an important part of the law to enforce because if the defendant and the victim are two different races it doesn’t automatically mean the crime was committed through hatred. The prosecutor would be able to find the defendant guilty if they had evidence such as the defendant would have committed the same crime to the next person of the discriminated race, among other things. This information is crucial because an easy way for certain people of a discriminated race to get a quick settlement is by simply filing that a hate crime was committed against them and twisting the story of what really happened.
Convictions go as far as the crime committed does. There are no special penalties or punishments for committing hate crimes. In some states there are reform groups such as the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s JOLT (Juvenile Offenders Learning Tolerance) Program. Since a high percentage of hate crimes are committed by teenagers and younger people, this program focuses on intervening with youths that have engaged in bias-motivated misconduct or low-level hate crimes. Programs like JOLT are productive, strategic ways to teach the young people of America the evils of hate crimes before it’s too late. It is proven that teenagers tried as adults and sent to prison have a much higher chance of recommitting their crimes than teenagers who are put in juvenile delinquency centers and programs.
Although there aren’t any specific punishments for hate crimes, the government is cracking down and taking them completely serious now; especially with the sentencing of convicted offenders, hoping to send a message to others, who think about committing hate crimes, that they won’t just get a slap on the wrist anymore.