Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions ‘Falling’: Report

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Prosecutions under federal hate crime statutes have declined, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

There have been just under 2,000 referrals since fiscal year 2009 under the five federal statutes enacted to combat hate crimes, and only 15 percent have resulted in federal prosecutions, said TRAC in a new report.

“Despite the renewed public attention being given to the commission of hate crimes, referrals to the federal government under hate crime statutes have actually been falling,” TRAC added, noting that records dating to FY 1986 indicate that “1,000 or more hate crime referrals occurred in these earlier years.”

U.S. attorney offices acted upon 99 referrals during the first nine months of 2019 under the statutes, but only 17 resulted in a federal prosecution, according to TRAC.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by the United States Congress in 2009 and expanded the scope of hate crimes for prosecutors to pursue. Rather being limited to attacks against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin, the 2009 law opened law enforcements’ peripherals to attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability too.

However, “[d]espite around 50 criminal referrals each year to federal prosecutors for these hate crimes, few have resulted in actual charges filed in federal court,” said TRAC. “During the Trump Administration, the number of federal prosecutions under this statute have become even rarer,” added the report.

In the first nine months of FY 2019, only four cases resulted in federal prosecution under the 2009 statute and six prosecutions were reported each year for FY 2017 and 2018, said TRAC.

The recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas is suspected to attract federal hate crime charges, noted the report. Law Enforcement said the gunman posted an online manifesto communicating a desire to kill Hispanics before committing the horrific event, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation indicated that reported hate crimes have increased year to year from 2014 to—its most recent report—2017.

The FBI is credited for a significant chunk of the 2019 referrals. Of the 99, the 88 were referred by the bureau, said TRAC.

The complete TRAC report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Demo

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