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05/22/97 B.C. ET AL. v. B.C. ET AL.

May 22, 1997


Chief Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Bilandic, dissenting. Justice Heiple, also dissenting. Justice Nickels, also dissenting.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman

CHIEF JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

The question presented by this appeal is whether section 12-7.1(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the hate crime statute) (720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1994)) requires that the victim of the offense be the individual, or of the group of individuals, whose actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin provided reason for the offense. We hold that section 12-7.1(a) does not impose such a requirement.


On January 8, 1995, the State filed petitions in the circuit court of Madison County charging respondents, B.C. and T.C., as delinquent minors (see 705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 1994)) for committing the offense of disorderly conduct (see 720 ILCS 5/26-1 (West 1994)). On March 17, 1995, the State amended the petitions to charge respondents with delinquency for committing a hate crime under section 12-7.1(a) of the Criminal Code. The petitions essentially alleged that, on October 14, 1994, in Madison County, respondents knowingly committed disorderly conduct (720 ILCS 5/26-1 (West 1994)) by displaying "patently offensive depictions of violence toward African Americans in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm and disturb James Jeffries and provoke a breach of the peace in violation of 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1 *** and against the dignity of the People of the State of Illinois *** ."

At the adjudication hearing, the parties stipulated that Jeffries was not an African-American, nor did the defendants perceive him to be, but that other unnamed individuals who were African-Americans were present at the time the offense was allegedly committed. Also, such unnamed individuals were not identified in the petitions as victims. It was also stipulated that the allegedly patently offensive depictions of violence toward African-Americans were confiscated from the respondents. The depictions were subsequently admitted without objection.

In response to respondents' motion to dismiss the charges (725 ILCS 5/114-1(a)(8) (West 1994)), and based on the factual stipulations, the circuit court dismissed the petitions for failure to state an offense. The court found that the charges could not be sustained because Jeffries was not actually and was not perceived to be, by defendants, a member of "the protected classifications" and that such was a necessary element of the offense of hate crime. The State appealed the dismissals. 134 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1).

On review, the appellate court reasoned that if the victim of a hate crime was not, or at least thought to be, a member of "the targeted group," under the statute, the word "perceived" within the provision would be superfluous. Finding also the statute to be ambiguous, the appellate court interpreted legislative debate to indicate an intent that the word "perceived" encompass situations where a victim is considered of a particular race by an accused, but is actually not. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the petitions because Jeffries was not, and was not perceived to be, African-American. In re B.C., 277 Ill. App. 3d 1085, 661 N.E.2d 1148, 214 Ill. Dec. 703. The appellate court, in effect, held that under the Act, the alleged victim must be or be perceived, by an accused, a member of one of the classes named in the statute.

We subsequently granted the State's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315(b)) and now reverse and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

SECTION 12-7.1

In 1983, section 12-7.1 was added to the Criminal Code of 1963 (Pub. Act 82-995, § 1, eff. January 1, 1983) and provided in pertinent part:

"Ethnic intimidation. (a) A person commits ethnic intimidation when, by reason of the race, color, creed, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, he commits assault, criminal trespass to residence, criminal trespass to real property or mob action as these crimes are defined in *** this Code, respectively.

(b) Ethnic intimidation is a Class A misdemeanor; provided, however, that any person who commits ethnic intimidation as a participant in a mob action, as defined in Section 25-1 of this Code, which results in the violent infliction of injury to the person or property of another shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, pars. 12-7.1(a), (b).

Section 12-7.1 was based on model hate crime legislation proposed to the states by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. See C. Gaumer, Punishment For Prejudice: A Commentary on the Constitutionality and Utility of State Statutory Responses to the Problem of Hate Crimes, 39 S.D.L. Rev. 1, 9 (1994).

In 1991 and 1992, the legislature amended section 12-7.1 by changing the name of the offense from "Ethnic intimidation" to "Hate crime" and by increasing the number of classes, by reason of which the hate crime occurred, and the number of predicate criminal offenses which might constitute a hate crime. Pub. Act 86-1418, eff. January 1, 1991 (amending Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1); Pub. Act 87-440, eff. January 1, 1992 (amending Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1). Thus, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, and physical and mental disability were added to the statute as bases; and battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor theft, misdemeanor damage to property, and criminal trespass to vehicle were also added. The increased penalty language of subparagraph (b) pertaining to commission of the offense as a participant in a mob action was also eliminated. Pub. Act 86-1418, eff. January 1, 1991 (amending Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1).

In 1993, disorderly conduct and telephone harassment were added as predicate offenses (Pub. Act 87-1048, eff. January 1, 1993 (amending 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1992)). In 1994, the words "actual or perceived" were also inserted immediately before the group of classes by reason of which the hate crime occurred (Pub. Act 88-659, § 3, eff. September 16, 1994 (amending 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1992)). Thus, at the time of the instant offense, in October 1994, sections 12-7.1(a) and (b) provided:

"Hate crime.

(a) A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, he commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor or theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action or disorderly conduct as these crimes are defined in Sections 12-1, 12-2, 12-3, 16-1, 19-4, 21-1, 21-2, 21-3, 25-1, and 26-1 of this Code, respectively or harassment by telephone as defined in Section 1-1 of the Obscene Phone Call Act.

(b) Hate crime is a Class 4 felony for a first offense and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense." (Emphasis added.) 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a), (b) (West 1994).


The State claims that the courts below erred by incorrectly interpreting section 12-7.1(a) to require that the victim or complainant be or be perceived to be of one of the classes enumerated in the statute.

The State first argues that the plain language of the hate crime statute indicates a legislative intent that the focus of the provision be upon the accused's motive and conduct, and not upon the status or the perceived status of any victim or victims. Further, according to the State, the provision includes no language which directs or suggests that an accused's bias-motivated actions must be directed against even a particular victim in order for a hate crime to occur. The State claims that by inclusion of the phrase "actual or perceived," the legislature intended that a trier of fact focus not on the victim's status, but rather on the defendant's motivation which caused him to commit one of the predicate offenses listed by the statute.

Respondents maintain that a person cannot be a "victim" of a hate crime when the offender's improper bias in committing the underlying crime is not directed against that individual or the class to which he belongs. Thus, as applied to this case, James Jeffries cannot be the victim of a hate crime because the racially offensive materials were not directed against either him or his race.

The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, and that inquiry appropriately begins with the language of the statute. People v. Hare, 119 Ill. 2d 441, 447, 116 Ill. Dec. 664, 519 N.E.2d 879 (1988). Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, it will be given effect without resort to other aids for construction. Eagan v. Chicago Transit Authority, 158 Ill. 2d 527, 199 Ill. Dec. 739, 634 N.E.2d 1093 (1994). However, where the meaning of a statute is unclear from the statutory language itself, a court may look beyond the language employed and consider the purpose of the law, the evils that law was designed to remedy (see In re Application for Judgment & Sale of Delinquent Properties for the Tax Year 1989, 167 Ill. 2d 161, 212 Ill. Dec. 215, 656 N.E.2d 1049 (1995)), as well as legislative history to discern legislative intent (see People v. Jameson, 162 Ill. 2d 282, 205 Ill. Dec. 90, 642 N.E.2d 1207 (1994)). In doing so, a court should presume that the legislature did not intend an absurdity, inconvenience or injustice. See Illinois Crime Investigating Comm'n v. Buccieri, 36 Ill. 2d 556, 224 N.E.2d 236 (1967).

It is accepted that a statute is ambiguous, warranting consideration of other sources, when it is capable of being understood by reasonably well-informed persons in two or more different senses. Jameson, 162 Ill. 2d at 288.

The plain language of the hate crime statute states that the offense is committed when a person commits one of the underlying predicate offenses "by reason of the actual or perceived race *** of another individual or group of individuals." 720 ILSC 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1994). The statute includes no expression that the victim or complainant of the underlying offense must be that individual or of that group of individuals. Inclusion of the phrase "actual or perceived" as a modifier of race and of the other enumerated classes indicates, however, that the race, color, religion, etc., of the individual or group that provides reason for the offense is capable of being perceived by an accused. This suggests that such individual has actual contact, or has had actual contact, at the least, with the accused so that his or her race, religion, etc., is perceivable. Nonetheless, it remains unclear from the statute's language whether such individual or individuals must necessarily be the victim or complainant of the underlying offense as opposed to being a person associating with the victim, a bystander, or a physically nearby, but more remote, individual. But see In re Vladimir P., 283 Ill. App. 3d 1068, 219 Ill. Dec. 161, 670 N.E.2d 839 (1996). Considering the lack of clarity in this regard, we find the statute to be ambiguous. See Jameson, 162 Ill. 2d at 288. Accordingly, we must resort to other construction aids.

Respondents contend that the legislative history supports their position that the victim must belong to or be perceived to belong to the group against which the accused is biased. Respondents claim it is noteworthy that the hate crime statute was formerly entitled "Ethnic intimidation" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1), and further claim that the basic elements of the offense have not subsequently changed, other than that the enumerated classes (and predicate offenses) have been expanded beyond ethnicity. Citing to the legislative debates, respondents also claim that the legislature chose to enhance the punishment for the predicate offenses underlying hate crimes because of the fact that defendants might choose their victims for "abhorrent" reasons. Cf. 82d Ill. Gen. Assem., Senate Proceedings, June 24, 1982, at 93; 82d Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, June 25, 1982, at 32.

We have reviewed the debates cited by respondents and do not find that the legislature contemplated penalty enhancement of the underlying offenses because of any improper motive in selecting victims. Neither are we persuaded by respondents' argument that the former "Ethnic intimidation" statute required that the victim necessarily be an individual from one of the enumerated classes, and, assuming that to be the case, that the basic statutory elements have remained the same with the expansion of classes and predicate offenses as well as the change of name.

In our view, the legislative history supports, instead, a generally more expansive meaning of the statute. During legislative debates surrounding passage of the hate crime statute, Representative Farley, the sponsor of the legislation, stated:

"This bill is based on a premise that bias crimes have a more profound potential impact on our community than other crimes. It seems to me that there should be a loud and clear message out there in regard to hate crimes. These types of crimes can and would destroy the very fabric of our society." 87th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, May 22, 1992, at 173-74.

The debates elsewhere reveal that the phrase "actual or perceived" was intended to foreclose the possibility that a hate crime perpetrator who had committed an underlying predicate offense against a person because of his or her religion, race, etc., might avoid conviction on the basis that the victim was not actually of the particular religion or race. 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, April 20, 1993, at 168-71. These debates do not reveal, however, whether it is the victim's status, whether actual or perceived, that is determinative as a rule of a hate crime. Notably, the commentary also indicates, in general terms, that the primary focus of the statute was intended to be directed towards the biased motivation of the perpetrator, rather than towards the status of the victim. See 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, April 20, 1993, at 171. In our view, it does not appear that the facts in the present case fall beyond the generally intended area of application for section 12-7.1(a).

The State asserts that section 5-5-3.2(a)(10) of the Unified Code of Corrections, a statutory aggravation factor available for criminal sentencing, presents an example of how the legislature might have included language intended to focus on a victim's status. 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2 (West 1994) ("defendant committed the offense against a person or a person's property by reason of the person's actual or perceived race, color" (emphasis added)). By contrast, the less restrictive language of the hate crime statute indicates that its focus is on whether the offender's bias towards certain stated groups motivated the alleged criminal conduct, regardless of whether the complainant was, or was perceived to be, a member, himself, of the particular group. In the State's view, where the legislature intends that the offender's bias be directed against a particular victim, it utilizes language to that effect as is shown by section 5-5-3.2. Because section 12-7.1(a) does not include such language, the legislature could not have intended such a requirement.

Respondents assert that the State's reliance on section 5-5-3.2 constitutes a distinction without a difference. That the sentencing factor provision refers to "person" and the hate crime statute refers to "individual" is not an indication that the hate crime statute does not require that a particular victim be the recipient of the offender's bias. Neither does this difference make the hate crime statute's language less restrictive.

Respondents' argument misses the point. Section 5-5-3.2(a)(10) does not simply utilize a different, but similar, term than the hate crime statute. The provision utilizes the same term, "person," in referring to both the victim and the one whose status provides reason for the offense. Moreover, the syntax within the sentencing factor provision makes clear that the two "persons" are one and the same. The existence of the sentencing factor's language makes clear that where ...

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