Thursday, June 30, 2005

What is the value of hate-crime legislation?

It's rare that I don't have a firm opinion on something... it's just the way I approach an issue. But this is different: I've yet to hear a good reason for hate-crime legislation, but so many of my ideological peers are for it that I have to wonder if I'm missing something crucial.

Ideas? Thoughts?


Ethan said...

I feel the same way you do. The main argmentfor me is that you can't know or penalize thought. Murder is murder (for example). It's a pretty strong argument.
There is, however one aspect of this that may be the seam in my armor. We always take thought and intent into account when prosecuting crimes. Not all murder is the same, and depending on things like motive and intent, we give out different sentences.
Anyway, I'm still not convinced but that's an argument I'm kind of thinking about.

Silus Grok said...

I'm not comfortable prosecuting thought... but you're right that we already do, to a certain extent. Are there differences, though?

In murder we take into the presence of forethought... but that's an action, it's taking into account whether the act was premeditated or spontaneous — which I believe is a valid distinction.

And there are overtones in hate crime legislation of the war on terror: if the goal of a crime is to terrorize a community and the victim was simply a vector to a larger end, is there consideration to be made for that?

I don't know.

I hope to hear some more thoughts.

* crosses fingers for more readers *

: )

Silus Grok said...

Oh, and Ethan... welcome!

How on earth did you find my little corner of the internet?

Silus Grok said...

So here's a snippet pulled from an IM I had this afternoon:

Him: And as far as hate crime legislation goes, it mirrors the latest Republican efforts to add increased penalties for domestic violence, such as in the Lori Hacking case... which is sort of strange, since they hate the word "hate crime legislation"

Me: It does... but for the most part it seems like legislators on both sides create more laws to make up for the ones on the books that aren't even being enforced.

Him: yes. true. except hate crimes are targeted... like if a guy wakes up one day saying "I'm going to go kill a black man". he passes over the 50 other people until he finds a black man and speciifcally targets him, which adds a whole other level of premeditation to it.

Me: But most crime is targeted. It's rare that crime is random. Everyone targets someone. Even the DC sniper targeted DC-area residents.

Me: What value do we gain from hate-crime legislation — besides assuaging our middle-class guilt?

Him: i don't know. i guess it appeals to the same things that drives Lori Hacking's dad to puruse domestic crimes legislation — the notion that certain people are in more danger.

Me: I'm not convinced that stiffer penalties are a significant deterrent.

Me: Without the surety of discovery, prosecution, conviction, and a meaningful sentence, perpetrators will continue to gamble that they'll be the one that gets away.

Him: you should run for public office. ;)

Ethan said...

I found you through Charley Foster. You've got a very interesting blog, so I'm now a regular reader.

Silus Grok said...

Ah! Cool... I forget sometimes that I'm not the only person out here.

: )

And since Blogger doesn't have any visitor log reader, then I'm stuck in the dark. That will all change, though, when I finish transfering my blog to Moveable Type... which will happen, eventually.

Charley Foster said...

I’m not entirely persuaded by the argument that hate is a mental state and as such is not outside of that category of elements the law traditionally takes into account – as in the difference between negligent and intentional actions. Hate is not a “culpable state of mind” in the same sense that “purposely” or “knowingly” or “recklessly” or “negligently” are. Hate is more akin to the reason one committed a crime. For instance, the reason the defendant assaulted the victim might be to rob the victim, or because the defendant caught the victim sleeping with the defendant’s wife, or because the defendant holds a bias against a class of individuals that includes the victim.

Silus Grok said...

Well said.

To my knowledge, we don't prosecute people differently based on the reason/motive of their crime... though it certainly can be an issue in the sentencing.

That being said, I can't imagine a judge explicitly directing a jury to remember take motive into consideration when recommending a punishment.

Silus Grok said...

So Charley... you're a lawyer, what are the best arguments you've heard in _favor_ of hate-crime legislation?

Charley Foster said...

I suppose I would give a serious listening to a deterence argument, especially if it were paired with an argument that hate crimes are in fact a different species than merely murder or mayhem or assault - that the act accompanied by the mental state somehow deserves its own catagory. And, I guess, if the relative frequency of hate crimes was very high rather than relatively rare I would be more amenable to being convinced.

Silus Grok said...

I would only be amenable to the deterrence as I stated earlier: if more parts of the puzzle were more of a guarantee... being caught, being brought up on charges, being convicted, getting a meaningful sentence, and finally serving that sentence.

A hate-crime law means nothing if the rest of the puzzle is such a crap-shoot.

Listless Lawyer said...

There's an interesting conversation on this subject here.