Hate crime refers to crime that is specifically motivated by hostility towards the victim because he or she is the member of a distinct group. For purposes of identifying hate crimes, "group" may refer to ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, political affiliation, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability.
There is some discrepancy among the states regarding which acts precisely define hate crime. The most conspicuous hate crimes are of course directed against persons, but crimes against property and even society as a whole can be prosecuted as hate crimes if they satisfy the condition of being specifically motivated by hostility toward a group.
As mentioned above, the definition of hate crime varies from state to state. While crime motivated by the victim's race, religion, nationality and gender is recognized fairly universally as hate crime, as of July, 2007, only twenty-one states include mental and physical disability on their list, twenty-two include sexual orientation, and only three states, plus the District of Columbia, include political affiliation. Congressional legislation in 2007 expanded federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to include all occurrences in all fifty states, and includes crimes against persons due to age, sexual orientation, gender identity and mental or physical disability.
Crime motivated by hate carry a heavier punishment than regular crime. The intent - a factor carefully examined in criminal procedure - behind hate crime is an attack against the fundamental core of a person's being. It is believed that this degrades and dehumanizes the victim in his or her own eyes, which gradually works to marginalize and suppress an entire group, thus causing substantial damage to society as a whole.