Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Public Law No. 111-84

After more than a decade of advocacy by the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009. 

What is a Hate Crime?

A hate crime occurs when the perpetrator of a crime intentionally selects a victim because of who the victim is.  Hate crimes rend the fabric of our society and fragment communities because they target an entire community or group of people, not just the individual victim. 

What does the HCPA do?

The HCPA gives the Department of Justice (DOJ) the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the DOJ with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where a perpetrator has selected a victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

In addition, it provides the DOJ with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions with investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes of violence.  The HCPA authorizes the DOJ to provide grants to state and local enforcement to cover the extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.  It also authorizes the provision of grants for local programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs that train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting and preventing hate crimes.

Furthermore, the HCPA requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track statistics on hate crimes based on gender and gender identity (statistics for the other groups were already tracked).

Brief History of the HCPA

Hate crimes legislation was initially introduced in the House and Senate in 1997.  During the subsequent 12 years, Congress passed various versions of the HCPA, but was ultimately unsuccessful in advancing the bill for the President’s signature.

This changed during the 111th Congress, when versions of the HCPA were introduced by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the Senate.  On April 29, 2009, the House of Representatives passed hate crimes legislation (H.R. 1913) by a vote of 249-175.  On July 16, 2009, the Senate voted 63-28 to proceed with hate crimes legislation (S. 909) as an amendment (S. Amdt. 1511) to the Department of Defense (DoD) authorization bill (S. 1390).  The DoD authorization bill then passed the Senate with hate crimes legislation attached as an amendment on July 23, 2009.

As part of the final negotiations between the House and Senate, the conferees honored the memory of two victims of hate crimes by naming the hate crimes provision of the Conference Report the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  Matthew Shepard was a gay college student who was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, and James Byrd, Jr., was an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas.

The final version of the DoD authorization bill, containing the HCPA, passed the House on October 8, 2009 and the Senate on October 22, 2009.  The legislation was signed into law by President Obama on October 28, 2009 (Public Law No. 111-84).

The legislation was endorsed by more than 300 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National District Attorneys Association, Presbyterian Church, Episcopal Church, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Young Women’s Christian Association and National Disability Rights Network.

For more information, please contact HRC at

Last Updated: Monday, June 28, 2010