The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see 18 U.S.C. § 249) was passed by Congress on October 22, 2009 and was signed into law by President Obama on October 28, 2009. It expands the 1969 United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
First, and perhaps foremost, the Act allows local and state law enforcement agencies to apply for the following federal assistance from the U.S. Attorney General:
- investigative, technical, forensic or prosecutorial support for criminal investigations and prosecutions,
- grants for extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and
- grants to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.
In providing assistance to local and state authorities, the priorities are hate crimes:
- where the offender(s) has committed crimes in more than one state, or
- that occur in rural areas which do not have the resources needed to prosecute such crimes.
Second, for hate crimes that in some way involve crossing state or national borders, or involve or affect interstate commerce, and where a state does not have jurisdiction or has requested federal assumption of jurisdiction, or where the federal government feels that justice has not been served or that U.S. prosecution is in the public interest, the Act authorizes the federal government to prosecute the case.
The Act also requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track statistics on hate crimes on the basis of gender and gender identity (statistics for the other groups are already tracked) and on crimes committed by and against juveniles. This is the first federal law to explicitly extend legal protections to transgender persons.