Law in Contemporary Society
-- JessicaCohen - 20 Apr 2010 Earlier today, a jury on Long Island convicted a 19-year-old of manslaughter in the killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant. According to media reports, he and four friends had been "beaner-hopping" - a shockingly crude term for cruising around looking for Mexicans and other Hispanics to target with violence - when the defendant stabbed Marcelo Lucero. The incident brought national attention to growing racism by whites (mainly) against Hispanic/Latinos, immigrants and non-.

It got me thinking...Should hate crimes be punished with increased sentences? Such charges often come with higher sentences than the same conduct does without the "hate" element. I always thought that we had hate crimes because when you attack someone because he's Hispanic or gay or White (etc etc) you're attacking the entire community, rather than that one individual. Does this make sense? Taking criminal law now, it's hard to square "hate" with traditional mens rea requirements...does such a murder connect back to traditional common law notions of malice? In other words, do our modern frameworks fail in this respect?

I guess we could say that a person who commits a hate crime should face a high sentence for general deterrence purposes - society I'm sure agrees that killing or hurting someone because he has X characteristic is societally loathsome.

One thing hate crimes do is incentivize prosecution of assault and battery or property crimes as an effort to court voters- these are highly political crimes. The defendants are the types of people, poor, young, uneducated, or mentally unstable (high risk crime groups), who act out their racist opinions (and other frustrations) by committing violent crimes. These are folks who would most likely end up in prison anyway, so I don't know if hate crime laws provide any great benefit to society besides political theater (the racism still exists and has existed since the Revolution).

Meanwhile, there is a growing wave of opposition to policies designed to benefit once under-privileged groups if these policies impact the upper/middle classes. People in these groups act on their racism in less obvious ways (sentencing discrimination for non-violent offenses and the death penalty, discriminating in hiring, white flight from inner city school districts) and remedying the effects of this discrimination requires a more complex solution that will require the upper/middle classes to give up something.

-- JonathanWaisnor - 20 Apr 2010

@jessica I'm not sure how I'd come down on the issue, and I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don't think increasing sentencing as a means of "general deterrence" is all that logical. I mean, doesn't society want to deter all violent crime, regardless of who the victim is? Killing or hurting anyone is societally loathsome, as you put it.

-- JoshuaHochman - 20 Apr 2010

Josh -- with regards to the general deterrence...I just meant that because hate crimes are well-publicized, their prosecution may deter more future crimes more than private violence would. But you're right.

Jonathan - I think you're right. The "hate crime" formulation is definitely political - no doubt elected officials came up with them in part to court the vote of the population offended by a crime. The issue might also go to our society's emotional need for vengeance.

However, one issue remains for me. Is killing someone because he's Hispanic worse than killing someone for any other reason? What about vandalism - should a defnedant punished with a higher sentence, for instance, if he draws a swastika rather than a tag that says "JDC2130" or something?

-- JessicaCohen - 20 Apr 2010


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r5 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:13:10 - IanSullivan
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