The nature of hate crimes has been a topic of many debates. Because hate crimes are associated with the violation of the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association, it is believed that the motive for hate crimes is a crime itself. For example, if a person beats another person for disliking his or her soccer team, such a crime will be considered a regular battery. However, if a person beats another for disliking his or her religious beliefs, such a crime will be considered a hate crime because of the ‘thin line’ that differentiates motives for hate crimes (Gerstenfeld, 2013). Therefore, depending on the motive, hate crimes can be considered crimes or deviant behaviors.
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Guilty Act, Guilty Mind, and Concurrence. Deviant Behavior Definition and Why It Could Be Criminal
Crimes usually occur when two elements of ‘guilty mind’ and ‘guilty act’ combine. A guilty mind implies an intent to commit a crime while a guilty act implies the actual performance of the crime. Concurrence is the combination of these two aspects. Deviant behavior is any conduct that does not correspond with the socially accepted norms. Thus, deviant behavior can be considered a form of ‘rule-breaking’ conduct. However, because social norms change with time, the definition of deviant behavior may also change. Deviant behavior can be criminal because it can violate other people’s rights and cause harm to their safety.
Criminal Act VS Deviant Act
There is a line that differentiates deviant behavior from criminals. When comparing the two phenomena, it is important to remember that criminal behavior is conduct that breaks the legal frameworks while deviant behavior is conduct that is not accepted by the society. Therefore, conduct considered deviant by some people may not be considered deviant by others because of the different societal standards.
Criminal behavior is not something that should be analyzed by the society. Illegal conduct is always considered criminal and is punished by the law. For example, some people may regard having large body tattoos as deviant behavior, even though it does not break the law. On the contrary, others may see nothing wrong with driving a car in the intoxicated state while it is a crime by law. By definition, any type of criminal activity is deviant behavior; however, not all forms of deviant behavior are criminal.
The Importance of Differentiating Criminal and Deviant Behavior
Current U.S. laws, although varying from state to state, allow for the federal prosecution of hate crimes that attacked citizens’ First Amendment rights (freedom of race, religion, disability, sexual identity, and others). It is crucial to differentiate between deviant behavior and criminal behavior to make sure that only criminal conduct is prosecuted. Because the First Amendment rights support one’s freedom of expression, prosecuting conduct that is not accepted by some individuals can be considered the violation of these rights.
Deviant behavior that does not cause any harm to the society should be resolved through community engagement or personal improvement strategies. On the contrary, deviant behavior, proven criminal, and causing harm to other people should be prosecuted according to the state laws. Because the prosecution of hate crimes is based on the examination of the victim (for example, the status of disability, gender, or sexual orientation), passing hate crime laws may undermine the equal treatment of all people. For example, different people committing the same kind of hate crime may be given different sentences judging by the personal characteristics of the victim.
Gerstenfeld, P. (2013). Hate crimes: Causes, controls, and controversies (3rd ed.). Turlock, CA: Sage Publications.