University Student Pleads Guilty to Alleged Hate Crime

A University of Illinois student pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after police discovered that he left a noose made out of string in a dorm elevator. 20-year-old Andrew Smith was sentenced to a year of probation

Smith was originally charged with a hate crime, which is a felony. He was also charged with three counts of disorderly conduct, one for each student who was alarmed or disturbed by the noose. 

The charges were reduced and the prosecuting attorney accepted Smith’s guilty plea after he appeared contrite and remorseful. Smith sent a written letter of apology and officers were not able to find anything in his history that would suggest he was part of an organized hate group. 

If Smith completes his community service and probation without issue, he will be spared a criminal record. The district attorney had attempted to reach out to those who had filed reports against Smith, but only one returned their phone call and said that she was fine with the result.

How Did This Unfold?

Social media began to blow up with pictures of the noose on the elevator. One girl who was with Smith when she said he tied the noose reported him to the school. When authorities confronted Smith about the noose, he told them he had no idea that it was considered a racial hate symbol. He told police that he had heard that the dorms were haunted and that is why he placed the noose there. 

Was This a Hate Crime?

A hate crime occurs when an individual commits a crime based on racial, sexual, or some other form of bias against an individual in a protected class. Protected classes include race, religion, sex, age, disability, or nation of origin. In Illinois, protections based on gender extend to individuals who are gay or transgender. 

In this case, Smith was charged with disorderly conduct. Disorderly conduct is any disturbance that threatens the peace of a community. In this case, leaving the noose on the elevator could have been interpreted as an open-ended threat, and in fact, that is probably what most African-American students were thinking when they found the noose.

Even though Smith pleaded guilty to the charges, it would have been very difficult for the prosecution to prove that Smith intended to offend anyone with the noose. Firstly, police found no evidence of racism in his history. Further, Smith had given them an explanation that, while bizarre, offered some pretext for the noose. Lastly, the noose did not target any individual student of color. It was left in a common area where just about anyone could find it. Had the case proceeded before a jury, Smith would have likely won it. That being said, he was offered a deal where he could both apologize and get away without a criminal record.

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Have you done something extremely upsetting that made individuals in your immediate vicinity feel afraid or intimidated? If so, call Chicago criminal defense attorney David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100 and we can begin preparing your defense immediately. 

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