U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has made it clear that, going forward, one of the primary goals of the Justice Department will be to fight not only terrorism abroad but the growing number of domestic threats as well. In statements before both the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder asked Congress to enact new legislation that would implement harsher penalties for those guilty of hate crimes.
The original hate-crime law (18 U.S.C. Sec. 245 – log into your Fastcase account to read the full statute.) passed in 1969 is still in effect today with few changes to its initial interpretation. Currently, crimes committed because of one’s race, nationality, religion or color are considered hate crimes and can result in anything from one year in prison to a death sentence depending on the severity of the crime. While murder, or the intention to kill, in the course of a hate crime is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty, threats or possession of weapons for the same lead to a maximum of ten years in a federal penitentiary.
Another point of contention is that crimes against an individual based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and disability are not classified as hate crimes, despite their nature to target and terrorize a particular group. The Attorney General’s call for action comes after the House passed H.R. 1913, redefining hate crimes to include the aforementioned categories, earlier this year. The bill still faces a vote in the Senate but following the DOJ’s proposition, it may face significant changes to its enforcement and penalties provisions.