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

Knowing how to choose a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, MN, can help you hire a lawyer who will prepare an effective defense strategy and fight for the best result from your case. One of the crucial tips when selecting a criminal defense lawyer is to vet those with relevant experience in cases like yours. You can only do this when you thoroughly understand the charges you are facing.
People anticipating an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, might ask, “What is the role of a defense attorney during an arrest?” A skilled criminal defense attorney can explain your options, ensure the police follow the rules, and protect your rights. The attorney will build a solid defense, talk to the prosecutor, and fight for your best interests.
Knowing when to hire a criminal lawyer for your case in Minnesota can help protect your constitutional rights and turn the odds in your favor. You should retain a criminal lawyer immediately after learning you are under investigation, get arrested, or are charged with a crime. Seasoned criminal lawyers understand the criminal justice system, can build a winning defense strategy, and aggressively push for a positive outcome of your case.