In April 2014, a gunman walked into a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City and killed three people. Because of the gunman’s ties to the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations, the words “hate crime” began circulating in media coverage almost immediately.

What is a Hate Crime?

hate crime is a violent action that is motivated by bias or prejudice, and the victim of the offense is targeted specifically as a result of the offender’s bias or prejudice. Specifically, Illinois law 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1 states the victim must be targeted because of their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion or creed
  • Ancestry
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Mental or physical disability
  • National origin

The above qualities of a victim may be actual or simply perceived by the offender. For example, a prosecutor may assert that a crime occurred because of a victim’s sexual orientation even if the victim is not actually homosexual or bisexual, as long as the prosecutor believes that the offender perceived the victim as homosexual or bisexual.

Alleged hate crimes may include the following offenses:

  • Assault
  • Aggravated assault
  • Battery
  • Misdemeanor theft
  • Misdemeanor criminal damage to property
  • Criminal trespass to a vehicle, residence, or other real property
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Mob action
  • Harassment via telephone or electronic communication

If bias or prejudice is assumed to be the motive for any of the above criminal offenses, a Chicago prosecutor may charge you with a Class 4 felony for a first offense, which could mean a sentence of one to three years behind bars and up to a $25,000 fine. Any subsequent offense may be charged as a Class 2 felony, which means potentially three to seven years in state prison in addition to a $25,000 fine.

Prosecutors may escalate first offense hate crime charges up to a Class 3 felony if they believe the offense took place in any of the following locations:

  •         A building or structure meant for religious purposes, such as a mosque, church, or synagogue;
  •         A facility used for memorialization or burial of the dead, such as a mortuary or cemetery;
  •         A religious or ethnic community center;
  •         A public park;
  •         On the property of a school or other educational center; or
  •         Within 1,000 feet of any of the above locations, whether on the property of the organization or one a public way.

If charged with a Class 3 felony, you may face a fine, as well as two to five years in prison.

Hate Crime Charges Are Subjective

As you can imagine, deciding to charge an individual with a hate crime can be an extremely subjective decision on the part of the prosecutor. Many times, a crime may have no biased motive even if the victim is of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation. However, prosecutors can often try to impute a biased motive on the defendant to pursue greater charges. An experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney knows how to fight hate crime charges and protect your rights.

If you are facing hate crime charges or any other criminal charges in the Chicago area, do not hesitate to contact attorney Steven Goldman at Goldman & Associates for help as soon as possible.