As a leading Chicago criminal lawyer, I am often asked to explain the Illinois Hate Crimes statute to those who have been, or potentially might be, charged under that Act. As an initial matter, the Illinois law is not the same as the Federal Hate Crimes statute. The Illinois Hate Crimes Act can be applied by Illinois prosecutors to prosecute State crimes, regardless of whether the defendant’s conduct might also violate the Federal Hate Crimes Act. The Illinois Hate Crimes Act can be found at 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1.
The Illinois Hate Crimes Act is expansive. Meaning that it applies to a wide variety of victims. Accordingly, the Illinois Hate Crime Act applies to those who are victimized by defendants who are motivated, in any part, by the victim’s actual, or even “perceived,” race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, citizenship, immigration status, or national origin. Moreover, the State does not need to prove that the defendant was motivated solely by the victim’s protected status. The State need only prove that the victim’s status was “a” motivating factor to the defendant, regardless of whether the defendant was also motivated by other factors in committing the underlying crime.
The State must also prove that a motivating factor in the defendant’s actions against a victim protected by the Illinois Hate Crimes Act occurred during the course of any of the following Illinois crimes: assault, battery, aggravated assault, intimidation, stalking, cyberstalking, intimidation, misdemeanor theft, criminal trespass to a residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to a vehicle or real property, mob action, disorderly conduct, transmission of obscene messages, and harassment by phone or email.
The Illinois Hate Crime Act makes the defendant’s conduct a Class 4 felony, if it is the defendant’s first offense under the Act and a Class 2 felony if it is the defendant’s second (or more) violation of the Act. However, the Act makes it Class 2 felony for even a first offense, if certain special circumstances apply – including those related to the location of the offense, i.e., in a religious facility as just one example.
Interestingly, the Illinois Hate Crimes Act, unlike the Federal Hate Crimes Act, provides the victim with the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the Defendant who is convicted under the Act. That is even more reason for a defendant charged under the Act to have competent and experienced trial counsel.
Written by Michael Leonard
Leonard Trial Lawyers
November 14, 2022