Why Damaging Religious Property Is a Hate Crime

Posted on in Hate Crime Statute

Illionois defense attorney,  Illinois criminal defense lawyer, IL hate crime lawyerIn early February, a man entered a plea deal after being accused of setting fires to three different churches in Louisiana. Now he faces a number of state and federal charges. Among the federal charges he is facing, one is intentional damage to religious property, which is a hate crime under the Church Arson Prevention Act.

Damaging Religious Property Defined

According to Title 18, U.S.C., Section 247, damaging religious property is defined as damaging, defacing, or destroying property due to its religious nature. This last element of the offense is very important. In order to be considered a hate crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant damaged property intentionally, and specifically due to its religious nature.

This means that if someone is on religious property and accidentally damages it, they cannot be charged with a crime. It is the intent to destroy religious property that makes this offense a hate crime.

To be convicted of a crime, the property that was damaged must also have been designated religious property. Under federal law, this includes churches, mosques, synagogues, religious cemeteries, and other religious property.

Penalties for Damaging Religious Property

In most cases, damaging religious property is considered a misdemeanor. Even still, this crime has serious consequences of up to one year in federal prison. There are times this offense may be upgraded to a felony. These instances occur when:

  • A person suffers bodily injury as a result of the property damage
  • A dangerous weapon was used during the commission of the crime
  • Kidnapping was involved
  • The damage was done in conjunction with aggravated sexual abuse
  • The damage was done as part of an attempt to murder
  • Explosives or fire was used to damage the property
  • The offense resulted in death

When any of the above factors are present in a case, the penalty may include up to 20 years in prison.

Challenges in Prosecuting Damage to Religious Property

Prior to a defendant being prosecuted for this offense, the Attorney General must release written certification. This certification must state that prosecuting the case is in the public’s interest and that it is necessary to secure justice.

Additionally, the offense of damage to religious property has a statute of limitations of seven years. This means these cases can only be prosecuted within seven years of the alleged offense.

Our Illinois Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

The crime of damaging religious property may not seem like a major offense, but it is a hate crime and as such, comes with serious penalties for those convicted. If you have been charged with this offense, or any other federal crime, call our skilled Chicago federal criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel. Attorney Garfinkel has the necessary experience with the federal criminal justice system to create a solid defense for your case and give you the best chance of beating the charges. Call us today at 312-629-0669 to schedule your free consultation so he can start reviewing your case.


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