Hate Crimes Hard to Prove, Rarely Prosecuted

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Nationwide, hate crimes are not reported as often as one might think, and they are rarely prosecuted. Although some say this reflects a racial bias, it can also be difficult to prove hate crimes.

The number of reported cases can vary widely. Louisiana and Mississippi, for instance, reported three and zero hate crimes, respectively, in one recent year, writes the Chicago Tribune. In Wisconsin, by contrast, about 15 convicted defendants annually are given so-called hate crime sentencing enhancers. And in California 1,691 hate crimes were reported in 2005 and 330 were prosecuted. Of the 274 cases in which the prosecution has been completed, 137 resulted in convictions.

Community members are understandably unhappy when an apparently race-, gender- or religion-based crime against someone they perceive as one of their own isn’t prosecuted as a hate crime. But this isn’t necessarily because of prosecutorial bias: It may simply be a function of how difficult it is to prove such cases, experts say.

“The most hateful person in the world wouldn’t typically say to police, ‘I picked the victim because they were Polish or Italian or something else,’ ” says Ben Kempinen, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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