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What Constitutes a Hate Crime in Illinois?

hate crime illinoisAccording to FBI statistics, there were 6,222 hate crimes reported in 2011, with 69 of those occurring in Illinois and about 75 percent targeting victims based on race or sexual orientation. Since the consequences of hate crimes are serious for the victim and the perpetrator, it is important to understand exactly what constitutes such a crime and what the penalties may be if you’re conviction of one.

What is it?

Illinois Statute defines hate crimes as those in which someone assaults, batters or commits aggravated assault against another because of his or her “race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group…” Even if the harassment is through electronic communication, such as the phone and/or Internet, it is still considered a crime. It does not matter whether the bias is actual or perceived, either.

This differs from a bias incident in which someone picks on someone based on one of those identified classes without actually committing a crime. Bias is defined has holding a preformed negative opinion toward a group based on shared attributes like those listed above. This means that all hate crimes are bias incidents, but not all bias incidents rise to the level of hate crimes. Some actions may be both, depending on the circumstances. For example, hate speech may be protected by the First Amendment, making it a bias incident; however, if it includes a threat or incites violence, it becomes a crime.

Hate crimes are penalty-enhancement models in that, if a person deliberately picks a victim based on the perception of the victim’s protected status the sentence for the underlying offense can be enhanced or extended. For example, someone convicted of an Illinois Class 4 felony, such as aggravated assault, can be sentenced to one to three years in prison. If the crime classifies as hate, that sentence can be boosted to three to six years.

What Are the Penalties?

In Illinois, if hate crimes occur within 1,000 feet of a public park; a place of worship; an educational facility; a cemetery, mortuary or other burial or memorialization facility; an ethnic or religious community center; or the public right-of-way within 1,000 feet of any of those locations, the felony classification is 3. If the perpetrator commits additional hate crimes after the first incident, the felony classification moves up to 2 for the second and any continual infractions.

In addition, the sentence for other crimes may be enhanced. A felony classification of 2 in Illinois usually carries the possibility of a prison term of three to seven years; hate crime enhancement extends that range to seven to 14 years. A Class 3 felony’s two to five years extends to five to 10 years, while Class 4’s one to three years extends to three to six years. Illinois felonies may also carry a fine up to $25,000 and restitution to the victim.

Illinois law also includes some specific mandates when dealing with hate crimes. If the defendant is sentenced to probation or placed with conditional discharge, it must include at least 200 hours of public or community service, and the defendant must attend classes to learn how to avoid hate crimes if the original offense caused damage to religious objects, fixtures or decorations. Convictions for hate crimes also carry restitution to victims or fines up to $1,000.

Beside the criminal penalties, victims may bring civil actions for actual and punitive damages, including attorney’s fees and costs. This could mean having to pay the medical expenses of the victim if he or she was injured. Parents or legal guardians of unemancipated minors are liable for actual damages in these actions.

What Should You do if You’re Arrested?

As you can see, Illinois takes hate crimes very seriously, and the potential penalties you may face are severe, not to mention accrued with the intent to discourage you from committing further infractions. Whether you actually did commit what you are being charged with or you have been wrongfully accused, you need adequate counsel willing to concentrate on your defense. Do not attempt to face criminal charges resulting from hate crimes alone.

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