Yesterday Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The president said he'll sign the bill.
The new law lets the Department of Justice give money to help local investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes based on on sexual orientation. Or, the Justice Department can lead an investigation if the local authorities don't do it themselves.
A crime is a hate crime only if it is
- Physically violent.
- A felony. That means anything that might put someone in prison for more than a year.
- Motivated by prejudice based on sexual orientation.
So verbal acts can never be hate crimes.
It's up to the Justice Department whether to financially help a particular investigation of a hate crime. The local organization must apply for the money, and then the Department can either approve or reject the application.
Whether a crime is motivated by prejudice based on sexual orientation is based on “relevant evidence.” That means evidence of things the criminal said, did, or believed, before he did the crime.
[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law, estate planning, and taxes.]