Hate Crime Legislation: A Psycholegal Analysis

Jacqueline K. Buffington-Vollum, Sam Houston State University
Philip Lyons, Sam Houston State University

Few would deny that prejudice, discrimination, and bias-related violence have plagued the United States since its founding. Similarly, there is a long history of legislation, both criminal and civil, aimed at reducing these social problems. One line of legal intervention in bias-related crimes is the relatively recent trend in "hate crime" (also known as bias crime and ethnic intimidation) legislation. Since the 1980s, every state in the U.S. has enacted some variation of a hate crime statute. This type of legislation has repeatedly fallen under the fire of criticism, mainly from the perspective that these laws violate Constitutional rights. The purpose of this paper is to discuss this legislation and its psycholegal implications for policy. First, a definition of hate crimes and a succinct history of hate crime legislation will be provided. Hate crime legislation at the state-level will be discussed, followed by a brief consideration of federal-level legislation; and the constitutional issues surrounding this area will be summarized. Most importantly, hate crimes and hate crime legislation will be analyzed from a psycholegal perspective, and the implications of these psycholegal considerations for policy will be discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006