Justice Department refused to prosecute 82% of hate crime suspects from 2005 to 2019

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Dental students and others gather during a vigil at the University of North Carolina in the wake of the murder of three Muslim students February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice has refused to prosecute 82 percent of hate crime suspects investigated from 2005 to 2019, according to a report released by the department on Thursday.

The report follows recent efforts by Attorney General Merrick Garland to enhance the role of the Department of Justice in addressing hate crimes and incidents.

Under four laws of the US Criminal Code, hate crimes are defined as crimes committed on the basis of victim characteristics such as race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability.

More recently, reports of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased during the pandemic, with many attributing the increase to rhetoric from former President Donald Trump who blamed China for the spread of Covid -19 in the United States.

Federal prosecutors have concluded investigations of a total of 1,878 potential hate crime suspects during fiscal years 2005 through 2019, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, only 17% of suspects were prosecuted by American lawyers while 1% had their cases closed by American magistrates.

The report cited insufficient evidence as the most common reason hate crimes were turned down for prosecution. Decisions to prosecute hate crimes generally rest with the United States prosecutors’ office in 94 judicial districts nationwide.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to comment on the report’s findings.

President Joe Biden signed a bill in May that would direct the Justice Department to expedite the review of hate crimes related to the pandemic and provide more resources for local law enforcement to track incidents.

In May, Garland announced his own six-step plan to tackle hate crime. This includes increasing resources and coordination, facilitating the expedited review of hate crimes, and increasing the department’s language access capabilities to remove the barrier to reporting incidents, among others.

“Since its founding, the Department of Justice has sought to tackle illegal acts of hate,” Garland said in the note outlining the plan in May. “As members of the Ministry, we need to continue and build on this work as much as possible. “

Garland’s plan also directs U.S. prosecutors across the country to “build trust” with the communities they serve to increase reporting of hate crimes and to appoint local criminal and civil prosecutors to serve as civil rights coordinators.

While the report found low prosecution rates for federal hate crime suspects, it also found that hate crimes prosecuted by prosecutors are largely successful. The conviction rate for all hate crimes increased from 83% from 2005 to 2009 to 94% from 2015 to 2019.


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