MGL Chapter 265 Section 39

Hate Crimes

Certain criminal conduct is a hate crime when the conduct is motivated by bias against a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability (M.G.L c. 265, s. 39). In Massachusetts, there are both criminal and civil laws that address hate crimes.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) enforces the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (“MCRA,” M.G.L. c. 12, s. 11H-11J), which protects the rights of all residents and visitors to Massachusetts against threats and interference with their civil rights. The MCRA protects the right to use public parks, attend schools, live peacefully, and enjoy other basic rights free from bias-motivated threats, intimidation, coercion and violence. These rights are the heart of our safety, well-being and freedom. The MCRA authorizes the Attorney General’s Office to pursue legal action against those who deprive others of their civil rights through intimidation, threats, coercion or violence.

Civil Injunction

Under the MCRA, the AGO may obtain an injunction if an individual is the victim of threats, intimidation, or coercion on basis of his or her protected category (race, national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability); or protected activity (for example, the right to vote or the right to associate). An injunction is a legally enforceable civil order issued by the court that prohibits a perpetrator from committing certain actions. A civil rights injunction will: order protection for a victim, and all others in the victim’s protected category or those performing a protected activity, from future acts of intimidation or violence; and prohibit a perpetrator, and all others acting in concert with the perpetrator, from further acts of intimidation or violence. A violation of a civil rights injunction is a criminal offense and can subject a defendant to fines of up to $10,000, and up to two and one-half years in a house of correction or, if bodily injury results, to up to 10 years in state prison.

Generally, individuals do not have to testify in court to obtain an injunction. The AGO is often able to obtain a preliminary injunction with written statements, under oath, from victims and witnesses. Victims and witnesses may need to testify at a final trial, however, if that occurs. In addition to seeking an injunction, the Attorney General’s Victim Services Division may work directly with victims and their families to advocate for them and support them during and after any legal proceedings.

If You Are a Victim

If you believe your rights under the MCRA have been violated, file a civil rights complaint with the AGO. You should also contact your local police department immediately if you feel you have been a victim of a hate crime.

Individuals wishing to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office do not need a private attorney to do so; individuals may submit a complaint to the AGO, in writing, on their own behalf. Individuals can pursue a criminal action and a complaint with the AGO at the same time. If the AGO determines that it can pursue a case, the Office will work with the local police department and the District Attorney’s Office.

Source:, last refreshed on 9/16/2015