What is a hate crime in Illinois?
Illinois has a broad definition of what constitutes hate crime. A hate crime relates not only to whether the alleged victim is of a different race, sexual orientation, color, creed, religion, or ancestry, but also encompasses many ways a hate crime can be committed.
A person accused of a hate crime may be charged if they committed an assault, battery, trespass, theft, or harassment on an individual that falls under the above criteria (i.e. race, religion, etc.). Hate crimes, in Illinois, are not limited to persons and their property, but also applies to buildings and structures. The Illinois statute expressly enumerates certain buildings and structures such as places of religious worship, cemeteries and other places of burial, private and public school buildings, and religious community centers.
The Court has much discretion when penalizing someone who is found guilty of a hate crime, but imposed with any sentence is the requirement that the perpetrator of the crime pay restitution to the victim for any damage caused by the perpetrator’s conduct or pay a fine of up to $1,000.00. Additionally, the court will require the perpetrator to perform public or community service no less than 200 hours. Furthermore, the perpetrator of the crime must complete an educational class either at a facility that engages in such educational reform or online.
Buried in the statute is language granting the Judge overseeing the prosecution of hate crimes wide latitude when handing down sentencing. For instance, in February 2013, a 19 year-old man was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to write an essay about the lynching of blacks in America after attacking an African-American man in 2011. The attack was racially motivated because the perpetrator, who is white, was upset that his female cousin was involved with the victim. In addition to the essay and probation, the perpetrator was ordered to continue meeting with the victim in a “peace-making circle” in order to foster better understanding between the two and help the victim heal. This is just one example depicting the various methods and means the court may pursue when imposing a sentence. Of course, Judges tend to be more lenient when the perpetrator is a first-time offender, of a youthful age, and motivated by passion.
With that said, it is imperative to point out that there is a fine line between hate crimes and expressive conduct that is protected by the 1st Amendment to the constitution and made applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment. A person may burn a flag or cross if the intent behind the burning is not racially motivated and the expressive conduct takes place where it does not incite or intimidate others. However, be careful that when expressing your ideals you don’t break any other laws unrelated to the expressive conduct like city fire ordinances or permit requirements. If anticipating in engaging in such an act or similar act, it is prudent to consult a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney beforehand.