Thought Crimes

Following a spate of violent attacks on Indian students, the Victorian government is proposing that tougher sentences should be handed out to criminals who perpetrate crimes motivated out of a hatred of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation:

HATE crime could soon be an offence in Victoria as the State Government moves to crack down on violent attacks against Indian students, homosexuals and other targeted groups.

Under a plan being pushed by Attorney-General Rob Hulls, judges would have to take into account “hatred for or a prejudice against a particular group of people” as an aggravating factor when sentencing offenders.

Tougher sentences would apply to crimes deemed to be based on victims’ race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

The idea of imposing tougher sentences for so-called “hate crimes” raises some interesting questions.

Firstly, if a judge gives a harsher sentence to a person because their crime was motivated, in full or in part, by a particular set of views about the victim’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, is this not punishing a person because of the ideas they hold?  In other words, people are being punished in part because of their ‘bad thoughts’ as much as their ‘bad acts’.

Secondly, is it fair to the victims of crime that a distinction is made in punishing the perpetrators based on the perpetrator’s motives rather than the circumstances and severity of the crime itself?

Over at Catallaxy Files, Sinclair Davidson makes the point that the issue is more a case of inadequate policing than inadequate laws:

So the government response to racism is to entrench racism into the legal system. Why not just actually enforce the law, catch the crims, perhaps engage in some preventative policing? Rather than plan on what you might do if perchance the perps are ever caught – they might get photographed speeding away from the scene of the crime.

To be fair, these laws are not the government’s only response to the issue; the Premier of Victoria has courageously announced a “Walk for Harmony” next month to reaffirm Victoria’s support for multiculturalism:

We must not let the actions of a very small minority undermine one of the very tenets of our state. I encourage all Victorians to stand-up now to reaffirm that our tolerance and our multiculturalism are important to all Victorians by participating in next month’s Harmony Walk.


#1 Selwa on 06.04.09 at 11:20 pm

The thought police,

We already have state education, state meddling in religion including funding acceptable religious opinion and criminalising other religious speech as sedition or glorifying terrorism.

Where is the harmony that all of this state control is supposed to foster?

#2 Thersites on 06.05.09 at 7:34 am

As motives can be used as extenuating circumstances leading to lighter sentences it seems reasonable that they may constitute aggravating circumstances leading to heavier sentences too.

#3 Steve on 06.05.09 at 8:52 am

Under this sort of legislation, the crimes of Hitler are more deserving of harsh retribution than the crimes of Stalin. Whereas Stalin’s murder of millions was motivated by politics, Hitler’s was motivated by racial hatred and therefore is an entirely different class in the minds of the Victorian government.

Assault is assault and murder is murder. It doesn’t matter if someone was bashed because the assailant didn’t like the victim’s skin colour or whether he did it because he didn’t like the colour of his jacket. Both victims are entitled to receive the same justice meted out on the basis of the severity of the crime.

#4 I hate hate-crimes on 06.15.09 at 4:12 pm

in response to the first point, yeah, it is punishing a person because of the ideas they hold. this might be bad in any other circumstances but when it comes to crime, i don’t really see the problem. it isn’t really punishment for thinking something. it’s punishment for doing something stupid, cruel and disgusting because of the ideas and opinions. thinking something derogatory is fine when it’s confined to someone’s head. but when that thought becomes action in the form of violence, then that is unacceptable and should be punished.

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