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Hate Crimes and Criminal Justice


The presented literature review investigates essential compounds of hate crimes and criminal justice that is related to them. It has been revealed that there are two fundamental factors that impact the investigation of hate crimes: the psychological compound of the criminal and the professional compound of criminal justice workers. The authors whose studies have been analyzed in the literature review have a common idea that the primary tool to recognize the criminal’s psychological compound is the motive they follow when committing a hate crime.

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The professional compound is easier to improve because it consists of the primary aim of criminal justice, which is to implement individual training sessions for the employees to help them understand the essence of the hate crimes and their place in the criminal justice system. The sources used for the literature review were published in 2015 – 2016, which makes the research valid and topical.

Keywords: hate crimes, investigation, compound, psychological, professional, criminal justice.

Hate Crimes

The hate crime rates of growth raise the issues about the significance of nature, causes, and manifestation of social violence. The vast majority of researchers agree that the causes of such crimes are complicated and cannot be reduced to a single factor. The very term ‘hate crime’ was first used by journalists in the 1980s in the United States with respect to a series of incidents against Jews, Asians, and African Americans. It is generally used to denote the destructive, illegal, and violent behavior motivated by hatred. The victims of these illegal actions are people who are relatively different from the perpetrators of crime in terms of racial, ethnic, or religious affiliation; sexual orientation; or physical defects.

Classification of crimes committed on the basis of prejudice is expedient from several viewpoints.

  1. First, this relates to the prevention and control of such offenses.
  2. Second, this emphasizes the importance of the impact on the victim. The vast number of psychological observations indicate that the hate crime victims are more traumatized and stay longer in a state of distress than the victims of crime that are not based on a certain type of prejudice.
  3. Third, such wrongdoings are often considered as a message to a group the victim belongs to, which might initiate counter-violence.
  4. Fourth, when such crimes do not trigger any reaction from society and the law, the criminals perceive own behavior as acceptable and even, perhaps, as the approved one. Thus, they tend to resume attacks on their victims.

Under these circumstances, the lack of proper response to hate crimes can be described as a call to violence. The attempts to commit the murders on the racial and ethnic basis demonstrate the weakness of the legal and the regulatory framework. The situation is further complicated by the fact that law enforcement officials do not possess special knowledge and full expertise in crimes motivated by ethnic hatred.

These problems cannot be solved without the assistance of specially trained professionals. The experience gained on the issue of prejudice and hate crimes will facilitate the process of investigation. Therefore, this literature review focuses on hate crimes, criminal justice professionals, and psychological aspects claiming that in order to overcome the problem of hate crimes; an effective system of criminal justice is required.

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Literature Review

One of the major factors that lead to hate crimes is the national or ethnic background. McAward (2016) has investigated conflicts that have arisen or developed due to various racial grounds. The nature of such conflicts (the author refers to them as “transnational”) is rather complex. According to McAward (2016), such conflicts are caused by the whole array of interrelated reasons, and primarily by the political, socio-economic, ethnic, and many other differences among people.

Indeed, the process of conflict development cannot be considered in isolation from other processes that manifest themselves in societal life due to the contradictions accumulated in a certain community. McAward (2016) states that such conflicts trigger the emergence of new problems or exacerbate the already existing ones.

Hence, the author has a strong conviction that to understand the nature of the crimes motivated by ethnic or racial enmity or hatred; it is necessary to explore those elements and links that are systemic specifically for offenses of this group (McAward, 2016). Without denial of the existence of the general properties of each of the traditionally studied elements, such factors as the method, time and place of commission of the crime, instrument of crime, the role of courage to commit a crime, in this case, should be regarded first and foremost as motives for committing a crime. The scholar distinguishes two basic types of motives. They are as follows: intrinsic motivation that obtains a personal meaning and a purposeful choice of a particular activity.

According to the study conducted by McAward (2016), the legal significance of motives lies in their impact on the character and degree of the social danger of criminal offenses. Another aspect which further deepens the problem is the psychological compound of the crime. It introduces an attempt to understand the causes of criminal behavior in each situation. In addition to this, it contributes to determining its underlying basis and direction of the crime in the criminal prosecution in general and in the preliminary investigation in particular. The motive for the offenses under investigation is of great practical value. This is explained by the fact that this factor allows us to combine the crimes into one group and consider them as a whole.

Analyzing the issue of the professional background of the criminal justice workers and the psychological compound of the offenders, McAward (2016) states that racial or ethnic discrimination is not the real cause of the crime. The actual purpose of the offense is twofold. On the one hand, it is represented by the inability of criminal justice to establish and secure the order. On the other hand, the psychological characteristics of the criminals are still insufficiently studied, thus exact answers to the numerous questions are not provided yet. McAward (2016) understands the distinction between racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic features that have arbitrary nature and may cause harm to one of the parties (individuals or collective entities).

A similar position can be found in the joint study by Walfield, Socia, and Powers (2016), who believe that the international human rights instruments prohibit discrimination primarily as an element of public policies, which is aimed at excluding representatives of a particular ethnic or religious group from the legal and the social sphere or unjustified restriction of the rights of people belonging to a particular group.

As a consequence, the authors propose to complete several steps to develop the professional compound of the issue as it is simpler to implement.

  1. First, similarly to McAward (2016), his colleagues Walfield, Socia, and Powers (2016) suggest a significant number of training in law enforcement techniques of hate crimes investigation, in methods for working with victims, and in the peculiarities of the litigation process.
  2. Second, the scholar encourages to collect accurate data on bias-motivated crimes – regardless of whether or not the crime was classified as a hate crime during prosecution.
  3. Third, the scientists insist on providing compensation for damage in civil law against discrimination.
  4. Fourth, Walfield, Socia, and Powers (2016) believe that there is an urgent need for the establishment of bodies to combat discrimination to support the victims of hate crimes as well as the victims of discrimination.
  5. The other necessary measures should comprise the work with the different communities and promotion of the establishment of contacts between them and law enforcement agencies, which will stimulate victims to investigate the crimes being committed.
  6. Finally, there is a necessity of educating the public (especially young people) on tolerance and non-discrimination.

Concerning the hate crimes and the system of criminal justice, it is significant to understand the key characteristics which are relevant to each of these categories. In this regard, Burks et al. (2015) propose to determine the term of a hate crime. Thus, the authors emphasize the fact that hate crime is a criminal act motivated by prejudice. It indicates that the motive is something that distinguishes the hate crimes from other kinds of crimes.

However, hate crime is not any particular offense. It can be an act of intimidation, the use of threats, damage to property, an assault, a murder, or any other criminal act. Therefore, the term ‘hate crime,’ or as it is sometimes referred to as “crime of prejudice,” denotes the type of criminal crime that can be virtually any specific offense in the Criminal Code.

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Burks et al. (2015) believe that because of the motive of prejudice or bias the hate crime can be committed even in a country that does not have special criminal sanctions. This term expresses the concept rather than a legal definition. As a result, the authors distinguish several components of the hate crimes which bear – similarly to McAward’s viewpoint (2016) – a twofold nature: on the one hand, those components are purely psychological characteristics, while on the other; these are merely the manifestations of the lack of professionalism.

Burks et al. (2015) state that the first component is a prejudice-motivated crime which indicates the committed act that constitutes an offense according to the provisions of ordinary criminal law (that is, regardless of the motive). Since the provisions of the legislation in the various countries differ from each other, there are some special characteristics as to what kind of conduct constitutes a criminal offense. Generally, however, most states recognize crimes of the same kinds as acts of violence. Acknowledging the case of committing a hate crime always requires that the predicate offense occur. Consequently, this component is referred to as a professional one.

Another element of the hate crime determined by Burke et al. (2015) is that this offense is committed under the influence of a particular motive which is introduced as a ‘bias.’ Due to this component bias motive serves as a distinguishing sign between the hate crimes and the common crimes. It means that the perpetrator intentionally selects an object of his/her crime basing upon some special characteristics and that involves a psychological component.

Apart from this, Burke et al. (2015) propose the reasons why the hate crimes can be committed.

  1. First, an offender may act according to such motives as hostility, jealousy, or a desire to win approval from other members of his/her group.
  2. Second, a criminal may not experience any feelings toward a particular victim of a crime but may have hostile intentions or attitudes to the group to which the victim belongs to.
  3. Third, a lawbreaker may have a sense of enmity towards all people who are not members of the group to which he/she presumably belongs to.
  4. Fourth, at an even more abstract level, the object of attack may simply symbolize a notion that the offender perceives as hostile, like immigration for example.

According to the majority of the studies, the hate crimes are characterized by the motive of hatred, namely, hatred or hostility towards a particular representative of a specific group, in respect of which a particular offense has been committed. In agreement with the definition given by Maher, McCulloch, and Mason (2015), hate crimes are simply messages of crimes, because they contain a negative message sent to a group, which symbolically represents the victim of a crime.

In other words, hate crimes, in addition to the actual offense, contain the symbolic message of ‘undesirability’ of a particular group in society. This positively affects the degree of integration of this group, in the overall terms of discrimination, and also influences the level of frustration of the members of this community. Manifestations of such phobias as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and homophobia are severely punishable by law that exists in a vast number of countries.

In this sense, the European and American traditions of criminal prosecution for various types of crimes motivated by racial, religious hatred admits more severe punishment for different types of offenses if they were motivated by racial, ethnic, religious or social hatred, or enmity.

According to Maher, McCulloch, and Mason (2015), a hate crime is composed of two elements. The first of them is the act constituting the offense under the provisions of the criminal law of a particular country. The second one is hatred or prejudice against a particular socio-cultural group, which is guided by an attacker who has committed the offense.

Therefore, Maher, McCulloch, and Mason (2015) state that if we face the only manifestation of prejudice (hate incident), it will not be considered as a crime. On the contrary, if we fix the crime in which no signs of prejudice and hatred against a particular group were shown, then it is an ‘ordinary’ crime which does not contain the motive of enmity or hatred based on religious, ethnic, racial, social biases; sexual orientation, or gender identity issues. Both of these approaches show the psychological mechanism of the crime perception which is of great importance when it comes to stimulating the development of the professional compound of hate crime investigations.

Finally, Maher, McCulloch, and Mason (2015) underline the fact that frequently the use of hate speech in the preparation or commission of the offense itself may possibly refer to a criminal motive. Hence, it is paramount to understand what a hate speech is and what functions it performs to eliminate certain xenophobic views.

The literature possesses numerous examples from scholars’ works which state that there is a growing need for applying a special sentence regarding hate crimes. Thus, Sullivan et al. (2016) believe that there are three main arguments that introduce further penalties for hate crimes.

  • First, the scientists have a firm conviction that there can and should be the symbolic value of the law to demonstrate that the public rejects the crimes based on prejudice. The adoption of legislation against hate crimes is a powerful expression of public condemnation of certain offenses as particularly reprehensible and deserving more severe penalties.
  • Second, Sullivan et al. (2016) claim that the legislation imposes criminal penalties for the damage caused. As mentioned above, hate crimes cause the victim more harm than ordinary crimes and also affect the status of other people belonging to the same social group as the victim. Hence, the rationale for assigning the increased penalty is additional damage to both the individual and the entire community. Such an understanding comprises psychological and professional compounds of the issue.
  • Third, the legislation against hate crimes determines the punishment of the greater severity of criminal guilt. A motive, which guided the culprit, exacerbates the severity of the offense compared to crimes committed without such motive. Criminal law often provides tougher penalties for the crime considering not only the seriousness of the consequences but also the criminal’s intentions. Thus, according to Sullivan et al. (2016), this argument implies that the offender intentionally causes disproportionate harm or neglects the danger of causing further damage.

Some laws and toughening penalties accurately indicate the degree of aggravating of the severity of the sentence. At the same time, other legislations leave such decisions to the discretion of the court. Certain rules also require that the court clearly indicates the reasons for the use or non-use of stricter penalties. Additionally, Sallivan et al. (2016) mention that in most states, the prosecution must investigate all the facts that can lead to a tightening of the sentence and bring such facts to the attention of the court, although the question of how regularly this provision applies to hate crime is debatable.


The literature review demonstrates that by hate crimes we typically mean acts of intolerance in the form of violence. These crimes have profound implications not only for the direct victims but for the groups with which the victims identify themselves. The notion of hate crimes is undermining social cohesion and social stability. Therefore, drastic measures to respond to them are imperative for the security of both individuals and entire communities. The other types of criminal offenses are different due to the motive of hate, which is guided by the offender (which is the offender’s psychological compound).

Since the motive is usually irrelevant for the establishment of the core elements of a crime, its investigation is rarely conducted with sufficient care needed to identify the exact causes of crime (which is the professional compound). If the system of criminal law concept of hate crime is missing, a similar motive is not recognized as a sign of a crime, and, in addition, the existence of hate crimes would be unnoticed.

The majority of the works analyzed suppose that the hate crimes, to a greater or lesser extent, are committed in all countries. Typically, in countries with an efficient system of data collection statistics show higher levels of hate crimes in comparison with those countries where effective data collection mechanisms are absent. However, with a lack of official statistics from public surveys, it is still possible to indicate the magnitude of this problem, since the existing system of the collection of statistical information is not properly investigated (which is again the professional compound).

The literature analysis proves that the hate crimes threaten to cause serious problems with security and public order. Compared with ordinary criminal offenses, the consequences of hate crimes affect the interests of a much larger number of people and could cause a split in society and civil unrest. Creating new or stressing already existing social tensions, these crimes divide the group against which they are directed and society as a whole. Hate crimes can exacerbate urgent problems among groups and contribute to inter-ethnic or social disorder. The escalation phase of internal conflicts is usually accompanied by an increased incidence of hate crimes. When tensions among ethnic, national, or religious groups become evident, hate can lead to an explosion.