Dentistry students and others huddle together during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders 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 by the department Thursday.
The report follows Attorney General Merrick Garland's recent efforts to improve the Justice Department's role in combating hate crimes and hate incidents.
Under four statutes in the U.S. Criminal Code, hate crimes are defined as crimes committed on the basis of a victim's characteristics such as race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or disability.
Most recently, reports of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have surged during the pandemic, with many attributing the increase to former President Donald Trump's rhetoric that blamed China for the spread of Covid-19 in the U.S.
Federal prosecutors concluded investigations into a total of 1,878 suspects in potential hate crimes during fiscal years 2005 to 2019, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, only 17% of the suspects were prosecuted by U.S. attorneys while 1% had their cases disposed of by U.S. magistrate judges.
The report cited insufficient evidence as the most common reason why hate crimes were declined for prosecution. Decisions to prosecute hate crimes generally lie with the office of United States attorneys in the nation's 94 judicial districts.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on the report's findings.
President Joe Biden signed a bill in May that would direct the Justice Department to expedite the review of hate crimes related to the pandemic, and provide more resources to local law enforcement to track the incidents.
In May, Garland announced his own six-step plan to combat hate crimes. This includes increasing resources and coordination, facilitating the expedited review of hate crimes, and increasing the department's language access capabilities to break down the barrier of reporting incidents, among others.
"Since its founding, the Department of Justice has sought to combat unlawful acts of hate," Garland said in the memo outlining the plan in May. "As members of the Department, we must continue and build upon that work to the greatest extent possible."
Garland's plan also orders U.S. Attorneys around the nation to "build trust" with the communities they serve to increase reporting of hate crimes, and designate local criminal and civil prosecutors to serve as civil rights coordinators.
While the report found low rates of prosecution for federal hate crime suspects, it also found that hate crimes that do get pursued by prosecutors are largely successful. The conviction rate for all hate crimes increased from 83% during 2005 to 2009 to 94% in 2015 to 2019.