The Justice Department declined to prosecute 82% of hate crime suspects investigated from 2005 to 2019
Dental students and others crowd during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murder of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute 82% of hate crime suspects investigated from 2005 to 2019, according to a report released Thursday.
The report follows recent efforts by Attorney General Merrick Garland to enhance the Justice Department's role in combating hate crimes and incidents.
Four pieces of US Criminal Code define hate crimes as crimes committed based on a victim's characteristics, such as race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or disability.
Recently, reports of hate crimes against Americans in Asia and Pacific Islanders have increased during the pandemic, with many attributing the surge to former President Donald Trump's rhetoric blaming China for spreading Covid-19 in the US.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Federal Prosecutor's Office completed investigations into a total of 1,878 suspects of potential hate crimes in the 2005 to 2019 financial years. However, only 17% of suspects were prosecuted by US lawyers, while 1% of cases were settled by US magistrate judges.
The report cited insufficient evidence as the number one reason hate crimes were prosecuted. Decisions to prosecute hate crimes generally rest with United States lawyers in the country's 94 judicial districts.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC's request to comment on the report's findings.
President Joe Biden signed a bill in May that would direct the Department of Justice to expedite the investigation of hate crimes related to the pandemic and give local law enforcement agencies more resources to follow up on the incidents.
In May, Garland announced its own six-step plan to tackle hate crimes. These include increasing resources and coordination, facilitating expedited hate crime review, and improving the department's voice access capabilities to, among other things, overcome the incident reporting barrier.
"Since its inception, the Justice Department has tried to combat unlawful acts of hate," Garland said in the memo that outlined the plan in May. "As members of the department, we need to continue this work as much as possible and build on it."
Garland's plan also instructs US attorneys across the country to "build trust" with the communities they serve to increase hate crime reporting and appoint local criminal and civil attorneys to act as civil rights coordinators.
While the report found low law enforcement rates for hate crime suspects at the federal level, it also found that hate crimes prosecuted by prosecutors are largely successful. The conviction rate for all hate crimes rose from 83% in 2005 to 2009 to 94% in 2015 to 2019.