The prevalence of electronic communication in modern life has brought people many benefits, but it has led to consequences as well. One negative effect of the increased ease of communication is the ability for someone to harass or intimidate someone else using a variety of methods. These types of actions are criminal offenses, and in some cases, they may now be considered hate crimes. As lawmakers look to combat the trend of online harassment, Illinois law was recently updated to expand the definition of hate crimes and allow prosecution of harassers.
Online Hate Crimes
Illinois law defines a hate crime as a crime committed based on the victim’s religion, race, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation. There are a number of offenses that can be prosecuted as hate crimes, and a recent change in the law expanded this list, adding stalking, cyberstalking, intimidation, and transmission of obscene messages. This change went into effect on January 1, 2018.
A hate crime is a Class 4 felony for a first offense, and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense. In addition to a sentence of fines, imprisonment, and/or community service, the new law also allows victims to seek damages from the offender, including actual damages, such as emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. Courts may also require an offender to pay a civil penalty of up to $25,000.
The law was initiated by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who said, “We must take a stand against hate crimes that have increased at alarming levels in our communities. Hate crimes against any person or group threaten our democracy, and I am pleased to see Illinois enact stronger laws against horrible acts of hate.”
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment, and 66% have witnessed harassment directed at others. While much of this harassment may be innocuous, 18% of Americans have experienced severe harassment, such as physical threats, sexual harassment, or stalking. This new Illinois law may be able to help these victims seek justice when they experience these types of crimes.
Get Help if You Have Been Charged with a Hate Crime
While it is important to protect people’s safety and well-being, there are also many cases in which someone may be falsely accused of these types of online hate crimes. These charges are very serious, and they can not only affect your personal freedom, but they can also permanently damage your reputation and your ability to find employment. If you have been accused of a hate crime, the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba can help you understand your rights and provide you with the defense you need to reach a positive outcome in your case. Contact a Joliet criminal defense attorney today at 815-740-4025.