Sometimes It's Personal: Hate Crime Prosecution in California
Woods, Laurie Elizabeth
This study looks at prosecutors and the criteria they use when determining whether or not to charge a criminal case as a hate crime. By conducting in-depth interviews of prosecutors in California, I explore how decisions concerning hate crime cases are made by those who daily determine, without oversight, which crimes will be prosecuted and which will not. I look at how prosecutors make their decisions, what factors they consider in making their determinations, and how their personal characteristics and feelings may impact their decisions. I collected personal data from the respondents including race/ethnicity, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, religiosity, and political affiliation. I also gathered information pertaining to the prosecutors’ reasons for working hate crimes, their political and professional aspirations, if any, and what factors they consider when deciding if they will charge a case as a hate crime. As a result of my research, I have identified two distinct types of prosecutors that I have labeled procedural prosecutors and personal prosecutors. Procedural prosecutors typically see their roles in the administration of the criminal justice process as upholding the law, interpreting the chances of a case’s success in the court system and focusing more on the crime and the suspect than on the victim. Personal prosecutors, however, are more likely to file a case that they find interesting or where they have a personal interest in the characteristics of the person who was victimized or feel personally outraged at the victimization.