Friday, March 16, 2012

Hate crimes

Is anyone else concerned that such a thing as "hate crimes" even exists in our law?  I was reminded of their existence because of the decision handed down today against a Rutgers student who videotaped his roommate engaged in a homosexual act (here and here).  Admittedly, the law uses the term "bias intimidation" instead of "hate crime," but it is widely reported as a hate crime law, and those words probably came up during the debate in the legislature.

The concept of a hate crime seems disturbingly Orwellian to me.  I realize the law considers the mindset of the defendant, whether the act is premeditated, whether he feels remorse, and so forth, but that seems quite a bit different than debating whether he did it out of hate or some other motive.  The end result is the same, and whether the person feels indifferent or antipathy to the victim does not seem to matter much in practice.  Either way, he is sociopathic.  Even if the crime is committed out of a misplaced sense of love, the perpetrator is still operating outside the law and should be punished.

The actual title of the crime in New Jersey law, "bias initimidation," is not much better than "hate crime."  Intimidation is against the law (I presume -- anyway I wouldn't have any objection to a law against intimidation), and I don't know why it would be better or worse to intimidate a person out of bias, jealousy, or just for fun.

As usual when I hear of hate crime laws, they don't seem to add anything useful that existing laws couldn't cover.  The defendant in this case is already guilty of invasion of privacy, which is punishable by jail under New Jersey law.  The bias intimidation charge doubles the amount of time he can be imprisoned, but it doesn't keep a guilty person from going free.  What is the benefit of putting this person in jail for an extra five years if in fact he acted because he didn't like his roommate's sexual orientation?  Why would he merit less punishment if he acted because he thought his roommate was a general loser rather than someone in a protected category?

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