Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act

The Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act would ensure that federal authorities retain the ability to enforce existing federal hate crimes protections by explicitly rejecting a recent judicially-imposed standard that would require hate crimes prosecutors to prove that bias based on a protected characteristic was the sole motivation for the crime--a difficult-to-prove standard that was never intended by the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Protection Act.

116th Congress: S. 3228

The Problem

After more than a decade of advocacy, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) was signed into law in 2009. The HCPA gives the Department of Justice the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence in certain instances where a perpetrator selected a victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. 


Unfortunately, a recent judicially-imposed standard threatens the enforcement of these important federal hate crime protections. In 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the HCPA to require that hate crime prosecutors prove that bias based on a protected characteristic was the sole motivation for the crime – a difficult-to-prove standard that was not intended by the HCPA and could stymie enforcement of this vital hate crimes law.

What is the Justice for Hate Crimes Act?

The Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act would ensure that federal authorities retain the ability to enforce existing federal hate crimes protections by explicitly rejecting the prohibitive sole-motivation prosecution standard imposed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. This bill clarifies that under the HCPA, federal prosecutors must prove that bias based on a protected characteristic was a substantial motivating factor—not the sole motivating factor.

 

What is the Current Status of the Bill?

The Justice for Hate Crimes Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on January 28, 2020.

 

For more information, please contact legislation@hrc.org. Read about other Federal Legislation pertinent to the LGBTQ community here.
 
Last Updated: April 21, 2020