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The idea of a "hate crime," no matter how it's defined legally, is nearly impossible to apply to any given case and serves no useful legal purposes. It serves instead political purposes: telling society at large that our lawmakers are good people with their hearts in the right place. But costing them and us absolutely nothing and doing absolutely nothing to prevent crimes. Everything that is included under hate crime laws is already a crime under previously existing laws. There are to my knowledge no special hate crimes that, were the circumstances not deemed by a DA to included "bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law" (hard to be more vague than that last part, of course), would be perfectly okay and not crimes of any sort.

For example, in Minnesota in the 1980s, a cross was burned on the lawn of a black family. The perpetrator(s) were charged under the state's hate crimes statutes. In the early 1990s, the case made it to the Supreme Court, which wisely ruled that there were already laws on the books against cross burning that made charging people with "bonus" penalties because of the ethnicities of the criminals and victims unnecessary and wrong. In other words, the court didn't question that a crime had been committed, but didn't support the standard idea under hate crimes that violators should receive extra penalties (usually longer jail sentences) added on to whatever sentence received for the crime minus the issue of hate.

It's been too long since I read about that case to claim that I recall all the details (I do recall that every liberal's least favorite Supreme, Antonin Scalia, wrote an opinion for the majority with which every liberal's second least favorite, Clarence Thomas agreed. That marked the first case I remember ever agreeing with the two of them. My view in addition to their basic decision is that judging hate crimes usually requires mind-reading skills that no DA, judge, or juror possesses. It requires determining the prior state of mind of a defendant along lines which are difficult if not impossible to assess AT THE TIME OF THE CRIME. If a person shoots another person of the same ethnicity, could there be religious differences that could make the act a hate crime? If a member of the Ku Klux Klan shoots a black person, is membership in the Klan prima facie evidence that a hate crime was committed? What if the Klan member shot the other person under circumstances that made the shooting self-defense: could it still be a hate crime given the Klan member's track record of shouting "racist" epithets at people of color. Would the people have to be black, or would it suffice if they were Latin or Asian or Native American? Does having negative opinions about non-white people automatically make someone guilty of a hate crime if the victim(s) is/are non-white? How do we know the perpetrator's attitude when the crime occurs?

To me, "hate crime" is simply a well-intentioned but ultimately failed attempt to punish people more based on the ethnicity of the victim. Yet I have to wonder: would a black person be charged with a hate crime under any circumstances? There's a lot of concern in the San Francisco area about black people committing violent crimes against Asians. Crime statistics seem to support that concern. Are any of those crimes also designated as hate crimes?

All that said, I think that Perry was guilty of murder. In NY State, as I understand the law, he really couldn't have been charged with first or second degree murder. There was certainly no evidence of premeditation (which is required for a first degree murder charge). I am not sure that prosecutors could get ample evidence of intent which is necessary for a first or second degree murder charge. That really left manslaughter (3rd degree murder) as the top murder charge possible. Ethnicity doesn't enter the equation.

One could argue that if the ethnicities were reversed, prosecutors might have been willing to risk losing with a higher charge. But I still can't see "hate crime" added to the charges. In my view, hate crime charges always muddy the legal waters. And I think it's a mistake on our part to try to add such charges in our imaginations and then find prosecutors wanting for not making the same imaginative leap. Instead, I think the whole idea should be removed from the books in every state so that the legal system can attempt to actually mete out justice. Of course, hate crime laws are hardly the only flaw in the system. But they're one that can be openly fixed and in fact should be.

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