Stress can bring out the worst in all of us. Sometimes, people find themselves taking out their fears and worries on others. Unfortunately, it is the Asian population of Chicago that seems to have become a target in the months since COVID-19 became a global problem.
Race-motivated crimes have risen dramatically in the weeks following lockdowns being put in place. Many of them seem to be aimed at Asian-American citizens.
Specifically, the Anti-Defamation League has reported skyrocketing rates of anti-Asian assault and battery. These residents of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs are reporting physical attacks and slurs being yelled at them while they’re out exercising in public places, as well.
What the perpetrators of these crimes don’t realize is exactly how quickly a misdemeanor assault charge can become a felony.
Hate Crimes in Illinois
Here in Illinois, nearly any crime can be considered a hate crime when it meets certain criteria. Whenever a crime is the result of racial or religious bias, authorities place additional weight on that crime. The law outlines increased penalties for hate-crime convictions in order to deter people from committing these types of crimes.
Hate Crime Legally Defined
The specific guidelines for what constitutes a hate crime in Illinois are rooted in an offender’s motivation. A crime is considered a hate crime when it is at least partially motivated by “race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin.”
Hate Crimes Are Always a Felony
Even if there is more than one motivating factor for committing a crime, if these characteristics are in play, prosecutors are likely to include the enhancement in an offender’s charges.
Rember, fear, concern for yours and your family’s health and safety, outright frustration at the entire situation — none of these will stand as a defense in a court of law — and hate crime convictions are always punished as felonies, no matter what.
Hate Crime Charges and Penalties in Illinois
Generally speaking, hate crimes are charged one of two ways: Class 4 or Class 2 felony. The only difference? Whether you’ve committed a hate crime before.
A first offense hate crime is considered a Class 4 felony in Illinois. This is the lowest level felony charge, but there are still significant penalties. If you are charged with a Class 4 felony, you can face up to three years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
A second or subsequent offense is considered worse. These are classified as Class 2 felonies and carry up to seven years in prison, along with the $25,000 fine.
Both of these charges also include the potential for up to 200 hours of community service for probationary orders. Finally, a mandated educational course discouraging hate crimes is included in all sentences.
Bias Especially Increases Illinois Assault Penalties
Some crimes are taken more seriously, even when it comes to hate crimes. Assault and battery crimes are one. These crimes cover verbal or physical harassment, much like the issues people of Asian descent are reporting.
Typically, assault is a Class C misdemeanor, and a battery crime is a Class A misdemeanor. Assault is defined as “conduct which places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery.” Meanwhile, battery crimes include any conduct that involves causing bodily harm or insulting and unwanted physical contact.
Racial bias is considered an aggravating factor. Aggravated assault can be either a Class A misdemeanor or a Class 4 felony. Similarly, aggravated battery is at least a Class 3 felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. All it takes for these crimes to be considered aggravated is a single racial or religious slur.
The pandemic is a deeply stressful time for all of us. We understand that sometimes the pressure can seem too much. However, expressing yourself through hatred and abuse does nothing but make things worse. Don’t let a misdemeanor offense like assault become a felony in nothing more than a single heated moment when biased words are used. Otherwise, you might end up needing the help of a Chicago defense attorney.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.