I don't agree with the hate crime designation. In my opinion, a sin is a sin is a sin. If someone murders someone else, it should not matter how he did it. If he did it, he should receive the penalty of a murderer. If we want to use a lesser example as an object lesson...consider the high school student. Let's pretend a paper is due on a certain day. The assignment has been out there for a month, and the students were forewarned of the consequences if they didn't complete the assignment on time. Two students were not ready to turn in their papers. One didn't turn the paper in because he hates you and he says so loudly and disrespectfully in front of the whole class. The other was simply lazy and didn't do it.
Do you give the hateful student a different 0 than the lazy one? True, you might send him to the office or give him a detention for the behavior, but as far as the action of not completing the paper goes...they both get zeros...end of story.
In today's hypersensitive world, hate crimes are at the forefront. It feels to me as if it does not always take much to warrant a hate crime lawsuit. Hate crimes are inexcusable and offenders should be punished to the fullest extent of the law--but not beyond it.
I don't think hate crimes should get harsher sentences, because this asks the judge to ascertain a person's motivations. In some cases, this may be obvious but in others it may not be and the decision the judge makes is much more subjective then in other types of cases and an impossible one to discern using the evidence alone. Peering into the minds of criminals is a very hard thing to do, and cases should be decided on the evidence alone.
There is no question that hate crimes should be punished more severely. Those who commit crimes may be motivated by a number of factors; desperation, addiction, revenge, rages, etc. Hate crimes meet the very essence of a cold blooded crime. They are committed with malice aforethought with no purpose other than to harm the victim; there is normally no relationship between the perpetrator and the victim; and they are evil personified. I can think of few instances in which society should voice its outrage more loudly and clearly than towards those who commit hate crimes. I have heard no one defend the Nazi's for their crimes against the Jews. Pray tell what is the difference in their crimes and those committed in this country, other than magnitude?
While I am, of course, as outraged as anyone about hate crimes, I think legally the issue is problematic. First, it is difficult to prove that a crime is solely or even mostly motivated by hatred, as "hate" is difficult to legally define. Sort of like the Supreme Court ruling about obscenity, hard to define, but we think we know it when we see it. That's pretty abstract to apply legal codes and sentencing guidelines to.
Secondly, the tolerance for hate and hate crimes has been and is different from state to state and region to region. For a very long time it was almost impossible to convict a white person for crimes committed against blacks in former slave states. In the eyes of the law, and the various state bodies of law, the definition of hate is subjective and unevenly applied.
I tend to come down on the side of 1st degree murder being 1st degree murder, and not 1st degree murder with a hate qualifier attached. The crimes are equally horrible, whatever their motives, and to me, equally punishable.
On an individual level, I do think that revenge is a less heinous motive than hate (if we are talking about racial hate or hate based on sexual orientation). The reason for this is that revenge is (by definition) a motive that has a basis. If you want revenge on someone, they have actually done something bad to you. Hate, on the other hand, has no reason behind it. It is simply caused by prejudice and bigotry. When someone has done something to you, it is understandable if you want to get back at them. This means that revenge, while wrong, is not that heinous of a motive. If you commit a crime based solely on some unreasoned prejudice, it is not understandable. This means that hate is a more heinous motive.
So, if the severity of punishment for a crime should be based on the heinousness of the motive for the crime, hate crimes should be punished more harshly because hate is a more heinous motive than revenge.
That is a matter of personal opinion. However, pre-meditation is what switches one crime from Manslaughter to Murder One in a court of law. As we know, most hate crimes are inevitably pre-meditated because there is already bias and prejudice implanted in the heart of the perpetrator, making it quite obvious that the malice and intention are ever-present.
However, it is a good thing that pre-meditation is an important element for an accusation because that way it is certain that the person committing the hate crime WILL get the harsher punishment as malice can be proved in the behaviors and patterns of action of the criminal.
If we could choose which crime should get the harsher punishment, I think that any crime directed toward any innocent person: children, by-standers, the elderly, women, innocent men, GLBT, or people who are ill and cannot defend themselves should get the harshest of punishments available in modern law.