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What Are the Penalties for a Hate Crime?

Hate crimes gained national attention following the church shootings by Dylan Roof, which left nine people killed in a Charleston, South Carolina. From statements he made, we know that the attack was racially motivated.

In most states, Roof would be charged with a hate crime. However, South Carolina is one of the few states to not have a hate crime law. The Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a hate crime, but has not announced yet whether or not they'll charge Roof with a hate crime under federal law.

When criminals such as Roof are charged with hate crimes, what penalties could they face?

What Is a Hate Crime?

The federal government and almost all 50 states have hate crime laws. A hate crime is defined as attacking a person because of a specific characteristic. Common grounds for a hate crime include race, religion, or national origin.

Federal Law

Under federal law, U.S. Code section 249 defines a hate crime as "willfully causing bodily injury to any person or ... attempting to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person." Normally, the punishment for a hate crime is a maximum of 10 years in prison. However, if the hate crime involved kidnapping, sexual assault (attempted or completed), attempted murder, or resulted in death, then the punishment can be any length of time up to life in prison.

State Laws

State hate crime laws vary not only in the length of punishment, but also as to the grounds for the crime.

As for Dylan Roof, if he is charged and convicted of under federal law, he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

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