Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hate Crimes vs. Basic Arithmetic

I was reading an article about the concept of a hate crime, and it seemed to echo (more verbosely) my own thoughts: It seems as simple as 1+1=2 to me that if the only difference between crime X and crime Y is the fact that in crime Y the perpetrator did it for racial reasons, then the government is now in the business of punishing thought and opinion. Does the fact that this even has to be told to anyone scare the bejeezus out of anyone but me?!

From the article:
The effect of hate crime law is that it empowers the authorities to administer harsher punishment when hateful motives are discerned. For example, let's say that two identical violent acts are committed. The first act is deemed a regular (I suppose, politically correct) crime, and the perpetrator is sent to prison for ten years. The second crime, however, is labeled a hate crime, so the perpetrator receives twenty years. Now, this begs the question: What are the extra ten years imposed in the second crime for? Well, we know that ten years were all the act itself warranted because that's what was handed down when only the act was considered. Thus, I would assert the following: The additional punishment is for the ideas or thoughts expressed through the act.
Now, that's pretty much what I said above, but there was also something about this very simple (and I believe obvious) idea that bothered me, that I had to work out. I believe I have.

What this additional bothersome point was is that what a person is "thinking" is already a valid topic of investigation in a crime (especially murder), so how is a "hate crime" different?

Here's how: In determining the motive for a (non-hate) crime, the purpose is not to punish the motive itself. It's simply to bolster the claim that the defendant committed the crime in the first place because they appear to have had a reason to do so.

So, in the case of a "hate" crime, if treated Consitutionally, assessing the fact that perpetrator Y of crime Y was indeed a racist, and the victim of crime Y was indeed of a race that perpetrator Y is "-ist" against, that simply serves as further evidence that perpetrator Y is indeed guilty - they had a motive to be guilty. It does not make them guilty, but simply bolsters the claim that they are guilty. Assessing motive is still a valid - and necessary - legal tactic. However, it in no way and at no time should be punished in an of itself as a crime (attached to the original crime, or more frighteningly as a separate crime altogether).

How anyone could possibly conceive otherwise is serlf-serving, shortsighted, and very dangerous.
posted by Dennis at 1:56 PM (permalink) 0 comments