Convictions in Federal Hate Crime Cases Since FY 2010
During the first eight months of fiscal year 2015, the federal government reported the convictions of eight individuals who had been charged with federal hate crimes under Title 18 Section 249 of the U.S. Code, according to the latest available data from the Justice Department. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of convictions where a federal hate crime is listed as the lead charge will be twelve for this fiscal year.
Four convictions this year occurred in the Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson). In the first case involving three defendants sentenced February 13 by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves, the prosecutor described the crimes as civil rights offenses involving hate crimes from terrorism. More specifically, the defendants – Dylan Butler, Deryl Dedmon, and John Rice – were each convicted of a hate crime involving kidnap or the attempt to kidnap, sexually assault, or kill. Their sentences ranged from 7 to 50 years in prison. In the second federal hate crime case, U.S. District Court Judge Henry T. Wingate sentenced John Blalack on April 30 to 20 years in prison.
Two of the other four convictions involved cases in the Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth) where the defendant was sentenced to 183 months in prison, and a Yuba City man in the Eastern District of California (Sacramento) who was sentenced to 46 months. In the remaining two referrals under the federal hate statutes in the Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham) and the Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans), the individuals were ultimately charged and convicted of lesser offenses.
Since federal hate crime legislation was passed in 2009, there have been a total of 29 such federal convictions, according to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Of these, a guilty plea was entered for 25 defendants; the remaining four were convicted after a jury trial. The average prison sentence was 101 months or over 8 years. The median prison sentence — half got more, half less — was just 4 years (48 months).
The comparisons of the number of defendants referred to federal prosecutors for hate crime offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.
Likelihood of Federal Prosecution
Federal prosecutors, however, received many more hate crime referrals than they ultimately prosecuted. Indeed, prosecutors turned down 235 out of the 270 total hate crime referrals received since the law's passage in 2009 — a whopping 87.0 percent, compared with only 20.0 percent of all referrals turned down in FY 2014.
As shown in Figure 1, only in 29 of these 270 referrals — about one out of ten — were individuals ultimately convicted in federal court. An additional six were prosecuted but were not ultimately convicted. Two were found not guilty after a jury trial, and in the remaining four the charges were dismissed.
Federal prosecutors gave a variety of reasons for deciding not to file federal charges (see Table 1). The three most common — accounting for 55.3 percent of these turndowns — were insufficient evidence, lack of evidence of criminal intent, and weak or insufficient admissible evidence.
The fact that the individual was not federally prosecuted did not necessarily mean that the person was never charged with the crime. While the federal records did not include what happened after they turned down the case, a number of the reasons given for declining the referral indicated that the matter was being turned over to state or local authorities, or that alternatives to federal prosecution were appropriate.
Trends Over Time
Although results only from the first eight months of FY 2015 are available, this year already shows the largest number of court cases disposed of since the law's passage — a total of thirteen. Convictions were obtained in eight of these.
However it was during fiscal year 2012 that the largest number of hate crime referrals were closed by federal prosecutors. The ten convictions in that fiscal year exceed the total so far this year, but if trends continue it is likely that number will be surpassed once data for all of fiscal year 2015 becomes available.
Districts with Federal Hate Crime Referrals
The Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit) leads the nation with the 19 federal hate crime referrals since the law's passage in 2009. However, of these only four were prosecuted, with just a single conviction resulting.
The state of Idaho had the second largest number of federal hate crime referrals with 14. Two of these were prosecuted, but neither defendant was convicted.
Tied for third place was the Northern District of California (San Francisco) and the state of Arizona, each with 12 federal hate crime referrals. Federal prosecutors in both districts turned down all of these without filing charges.
Two districts tied with the largest number of convictions from federal hate crime referrals since the federal law's passage in 2009. These were the Eastern District of Kentucky (Lexington) and the Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson), each with four. Three districts each had three convictions from federal hate crime referrals. These were New Mexico, the Eastern District of California (Sacramento), and the Eastern District of Tennessee (Knoxville).
For a complete listing of federal districts having at least one hate crime referral, along with the outcome, see Table 3.