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Threaten a Public Official, Face Less Jail Time?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 27, 2011 9:49 AM

Did you know that, in Illinois, the crime of threatening a public official receives a lesser punishment than the threatening of a private individual?

Upset about his pending sex offender registration, Maurice Pennington filed a suit challenging the state's rules. In that filing, he made violent threats against Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Charged with threatening a public official, he faces a maximum of 5 years. If he had threatened a private person, he would face a maximum of 10 years.

What is threatening a public official? And why does it receive a lesser sentence?

Though laws may vary, in Illinois, threatening a public official is either:

  • The assault of an official or a member of his or her immediate family; or
  • Making credible threats against the property of a public official or his or her immediate family.

Threats must be connected to the official's public duties or position.

Though the punishment gap may be the result of a legislative oversight, there may be some justification for more severely punishing threats against private persons.

Historically, persons in official positions have been subject to criticism and threats. There have been assassinations and violent protests for centuries.

Knowing this, persons who enter public service arguably accept the risk of injury. Threats may simply be considered part of their jobs.

In general, an average citizen does not assume the same risk. Though a private individual may be unpopular, his or her actions aren't public in nature. Thus, they are thought to be less likely to attract threats.

Whether this theory is the basis for Illinois' sentencing disparity is unknown. Regardless, it's probably not a good idea to threaten a public official or private individual.

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