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A Higher Bar: Institutional Impediments to Hate Crime Prosecution

NCJ Number
Law & Society Volume: 57 Issue: 4 Dated: Dec 2023 Pages: 489-507
Date Published
December 2023

This article explores the reasons behind low rates of prosecution for hate-crimes, discussing research methodology and findings, as well as implications for policymakers.


Why are hate-crime cases so rarely prosecuted? Most states and the federal government have hate crime laws on their books, yet available data indicate few prosecutions in most jurisdictions. Drawing on case files and interviews with police and prosecutors in one jurisdiction, three institutional impediments to hate-crime prosecution are identified: evidentiary inflation, by which law enforcement uses a higher burden of proof than what is required by statute; loose coupling between police departments and prosecutors' offices; and cultural distance between law enforcement and victims. Findings also reveal that advocacy groups and media can successfully increase the visibility of cases and draw the attention of prosecutors. The findings align with aspects of legal endogeneity theory and enhance our understanding of the role of organizations in constructing the meaning of law. The results also help explain why some laws are rarely enforced, even when they have support from key personnel in an organization. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: December 1, 2023