The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, more commonly called the Hate Crimes Act or Matthew Shepard Act, was passed in October 2009. The law was enacted in response to two brutal bias-motivated crimes. In one, a gang tortured and killed Matthew Shepard, a student in Wyoming, because they believed he was gay. In the other, two white supremacists dragged James Byrd, Jr., an African American man, behind a truck, eventually decapitating him. Federal authorities were unable to prosecute either of these horrendous crimes under the then-existing 1969 Federal Hate Crimes Law.
The 1969 Federal Hate Crimes Law gave the U.S. Department of Justice the power to investigate and prosecute defendants who selected their crime victim based on the victim's race, color, religion, or national origin. Under that law, the victims must have been engaged in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school.
In Matthew Shepards murder, the murderers were motivated by his sexual identity, not by any of the protected categories. James Byrd, Jr. was not engaged in a federally-protected activity when he was lynched and killed. The Matthew Shepard Act expanded the 1969 Federal Hate Crime Law to cover these and other types of brutal murders. Specifically the Act:
Other noteworthy aspects of the Matthew Shepard Act:
Sec. 4701. Short Title.
This division may be cited as the ``Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act