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Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act 0f 2009

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 18 U.S.C. § 249, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, was passed on October 22, 2009, then signed into law by President Barack H. Obama on October 28, 2009, as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 (H.R. 2647).  The Act was enacted to provide federal assistance to state and local jurisdictions as well as tribal jurisdictions to help them to more effectively investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

It also creates a new federal criminal law which criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury when:

  • the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person or
  • the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction

Subsection (a)(1) of § 249 criminalizes violent acts (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when those acts occur because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.

Subsection (a)(2) of § 249 criminalizes acts of violence (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when motivated by the actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person. It will also apply to violent acts motivated by animus against those religions and national origins which were not considered to be “races” at the time the Thirteenth Amendment was passed.

Subsection (a)(3) of § 249 provides for the prosecution of crimes committed because of any of the characteristics defined in (a)(1) or (a)(2), whenever such crimes occur within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction (SMTJ) of the United States.