When Hate Crime Reports Are a Hoax

Falsely reporting a hate crime to law enforcement in Minnesota is a misdemeanor offense punishable by fines and possible jail time. Hate crime hoaxes punish innocent people, waste valuable time of police officers, and burden the court system.

The Jussie Smollett Hate Crime Hoax

The recent hate crime hoax of actor Jussie Smollett has raised many concerns about falsely reporting a crime. The actor who is black and openly gay recently reported that he was viciously attacked by two men wearing hoodies as he walked down a Chicago street near his apartment in the early morning hours. He alleged that the two men made racist remarks during the attack. Chicago police immediately launched an investigation to find the perpetrators of the hate crime against Smollett.

After a 4-week investigation, Chicago police announced they had identified and were questioning two “persons of interest” captured on a surveillance video. The men were arrested but later released when police acknowledged a relationship between the two men and Smollett. As the investigation continued, law enforcement officials became increasingly suspicious that the alleged attack was a hoax perpetrated by Smollet himself. As a result, the two men of Nigerian descent were named as “potential suspects” and released without any charges.

The Jussie Smollet investigation revealed that the two men told police that Smollett hired them to help him orchestrate and stage the attack. It now appears that Smollett planned the incident and filed a false hate crime report to advance his career and raise his salary on the hit television show “Empire.” When the hoax became public, Smollett was fired from the television show and charged with felony disorderly conduct, a crime that carries a penalty of one to three years in jail. In March, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped in a Cook County courtroom.

The Reality of Hate Crime Hoaxes

Although the case of Jussie Smollett angered many people around the country, hate crime hoaxes in America are common. In a book called Hate Crime Hoax, research shows 409 confirmed cases of false hate crimes reported to police. In 2016, the FBI reported 6,121 hate crimes in the United States. In 2017, that number increased to 7,175 hate crimes, with reports showing 28 percent alleged against black men and 9 percent alleged against gay men.

The growing trend of hate crime hoaxes in America is raising major concerns for law enforcement officials as well as the general public. Falsely reported hate crimes put innocent people at risk for arrest and prosecution of a crime they did not commit. Reporting a false hate crime takes valuable time away from police officers who end up investigating a crime that was never committed. Thousands of hours and taxpayer dollars are spent on criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors for court time and trials that should never take place. In Jussie Smollet’s case, Smollett alleged that he was attacked by two men because he was black and gay. He played the victim card and raised public concerns about racial prejudice that led to a physical attack. Smollett’s family called the incident an act of domestic terrorism which increased public concerns and fears for future terrorist attacks. The hate crime hoax perpetrated by Smollet for personal gain did nothing but create fear and negative reactions for millions of people.

Penalties for Reporting False Hate Crimes

In Minnesota, knowingly filing a false crime report to law enforcement is a misdemeanor under current laws. Because of the recent Jussie Smollett incident, a Minnesota legislator, Nick Zerwas, is proposing harsher fines and penalties for reporting false hate crimes in Minnesota. Zerwas wants to make it a gross misdemeanor that’s punishable by a $3,000 file and up to three years in jail.

In Minnesota and other states, there has been a rise in hate crime hoaxes on college campuses across the country. Innocent people are being falsely accused of serious hate crimes they did not commit. False hate crimes are being alleged against people of all ages and genders with accusations including racial slurs and verbal attacks, physical attacks, and rape. In many cases, these hate crime hoaxes have resulted in accusers being arrested and fined for filing false reports. Many falsely accused perpetrators have received monetary settlements to compensate them for damages incurred from false accusations.

Because hate crime hoaxes create disbelief and cynicism among the public, it causes skepticism for all hate-crime incidents, including the ones that turn out to be real. Many law enforcement officials and state legislators are expressing the need for harsher penalties for people who file false hate crime reports. If laws are changed, perpetrators convicted of hate crime hoaxes may face higher fines and longer jail terms for their actions.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

One of the questions people facing a criminal charge ask is: How long does a criminal case take? The timeline of your criminal case in Minnesota will depend on the nature and severity of the alleged crime, the speed of the criminal justice system, the duration of the trial, and whether an appeal will be necessary. Delays at any stage of the criminal justice process may impact how long your criminal case will last. Generally, however, misdemeanor cases may resolve within weeks or months, while felony cases may linger in courts for up to a year.
People accused, arrested, or charged with a crime often ask, “How much does a criminal defense lawyer cost in Minneapolis, MN?” It is difficult to accurately determine how much a criminal defense lawyer will cost. The reason is that numerous factors impact the cost of legal representation in criminal matters. These factors include the type and severity of criminal charges, the lawyer’s experience and reputation, required time and effort, and geographical location.
Social media can have legal implications, particularly when it comes to criminal cases. Since its advent, social media has become a powerful tool for communication and self-expression. As of 2023, an estimated 4.9 billion people worldwide use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to share thoughts, experiences, and moments from their lives. However, in this digital age, social media activity can be used as evidence in criminal cases in Minneapolis and elsewhere.