Hate crimes are taken very seriously in Tennessee and can result in enhanced criminal punishments for those convicted of what are known as “bias motivated”crimes. Beyond these criminal penalties, Tennessee law is clear that victims of hate crimes are also allowed to seek special civil damages from their attackers.
In Tennessee there are three main hate crimes statute on the books. The first law is from 1989 and makes it a crime to intentionally desecrate a place of worship or burial site. A year later Tennessee lawmakers passed another law that states that it is illegal to intimidate others from exercising their civil rights through injury or threat of injury. Those responsible for this intimidation face Class D felony charges as well as a possible civil suit by their victims.
Finally, in 2008 Tennessee passed a comprehensive piece of hate crime legislation that more closely resembles federal hate crimes laws. The 2008 law says that defendants can have their sentences enhanced in cases where the victim is vulnerable due to age or physical or mental disability. The law goes even further and says that defendants will also receive an enhanced sentence if it can be determined that the victim was intentionally selected due to their race,religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or gender.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, 297 offenses were reported as “bias motivated” in the state as of last year. More than one third of these cases were found to be racially motivated, representing the largest category of hate crime prosecutions. Experts have noted a rise in recent years in hate crime prosecutions as law enforcement officials are eager to use whatever tools they can to put criminals away for as long as possible.