Hate Crimes, Sex Laws and Police in Connecticut
Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression are protected characteristics under Connecticut's hate crimes laws.
Questions & Answers (Accurate as of January 31, 2012)
Hate Crimes & Violence
Does Connecticut have a hate crimes law?
Yes, Connecticut has two different types of hate crimes laws. In order to track hate crimes, the State maintains a reporting system so that incidents alleged are centrally recorded.101 In addition, Connecticut sets out a sliding scale of increased penalties for hate crimes based on actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression depending on their severity. See “An Act Concerning Intimidation Based on Bigotry or Bias.”102
How does the law define what is a hate crime?
Before the law of “intimidation based on bigotry or bias” can be applied to any crime, it must be shown that the attacker acted (1) maliciously and (2) with specific intent (i.e., the attacker specifically chose to attack the person because of their personal characteristics of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, etc.)
If those prerequisites are shown, the crime takes several forms.
- Intimidation based on bigotry or bias is a Class C Felony when, in addition to the prerequisites above, the attacker “causes serious physical injury” to a person.
- Intimidation based on bigotry or bias is a Class D Felony (less serious than Class C felony) when, in addition to the prerequisites above, the attacker (a) causes physical contact with another person, or (b) damages, destroys or defaces a person’s real or personal property, or (c) threatens to do either (a) or (b) as long as there is also reasonable cause to believe those threatened acts will occur. When no maliciousness can be shown, a person may nonetheless be liable as follows.
- Intimidation based on bigotry or bias is a Class A misdemeanor (less serious than Class D felony) when, with specific intent (there is no maliciousness requirement here), the attacker intimidates or harasses a person or group of persons by (a) damaging, destroying or defacing any real or personal property, or (b) threatens to do so as long as there is also reasonable cause to believe those threatened acts will occur.
Note that actions toward a group—even if not a specific person—can trigger the misdemeanor statute.
Another provision of law allows enhanced penalties against people who are “persistent offenders” of crimes involving bigotry and bias.103
There are also specific laws concerning desecration of religious sites and cross burning which are beyond the scope of this document.
How do I know if an attack was a hate crime?
Trust your gut and report to the police all the details of any possible hate crime. If you leave out the details about bias, the police will have no way of knowing that the crime may be a hate crime. Law enforcement officials tend to use the following as guideposts for determining whether or not a crime is a hate crime.
- Did the attacker use anti-gay language or epithets?
- Was the victim in an area associated with gay people (e.g. outside a gay bar or a cruising area)?
- Have there been similar crimes in the area?
- Did the attack occur regardless of economic motive (i.e., person attacked but not robbed)?
Where can I call if I think I’ve been a victim of a hate crime?
For help and referrals, call the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) Hate Crimes Project which both records hate incidents and advocates for victims as well. They can be contacted at (860) 247-6090 or Toll-Free (800) 479-2949.
Note that in a typical hate crimes case, the hate crimes violation may be charged along with another criminal statute (such as assault and battery, or assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, or assault with intent to murder and maim), which may be easier to prove.
What other options do I have if I think I have been the victim of a hate crime?
In addition to pursuing your rights in the criminal justice system, or instead of going that route, you can pursue a civil action against your attacker if you have been injured or if your property has been damaged.105 That action must be filed within ONE YEAR of the date of the acts about which you are complaining. If you prevail in court, you can collect damages, and the judge may also decide to award triple damages, equitable relief (such as an injunction ordering the attacker to stay away from you) and attorney’s fees.
In what ways might the recently passed federal hate crimes law help to investigate and prosecute hate crimes?
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act106 was passed by Congress on October 22, 2009 and was signed into law by President Obama on October 28, 2009. It expands the 1969 United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
First, and perhaps foremost, the Act allows local and state law enforcement agencies to apply for the following federal assistance from the U.S. Attorney General:
- investigative, technical, forensic or prosecutorial support for criminal investigations and prosecutions,
- grants for extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and
- grants to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.
In providing assistance to local and state authorities, the priorities are hate crimes:
- where the offender(s) has committed crimes in more than one state, or
- that occur in rural areas which do not have the resources needed to prosecute such crimes.
Second, for hate crimes that in some way involve crossing state or national borders, or involve or affect interstate commerce, and where a state does not have jurisdiction or has requested federal assumption of jurisdiction, or where the federal government feels that justice has not been served or that U.S. prosecution is in the public interest, the Act authorizes the federal government to prosecute the case.
The Act also requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track statistics on hate crimes on the basis of gender and gender identity (statistics for the other groups are already tracked) and on crimes committed by and against juveniles. This is the first federal law to explicitly extend legal protections to transgender persons.
Criminal Sex Laws
Does Connecticut have a sodomy law?
No, Connecticut repealed its former sodomy law, and ever since 1969, acts between consenting adults in private have been legal.
If it’s not illegal for gay people to have sex, why are gay people still getting arrested?
Gay people are subject to the full range of laws as are non-gay people, so sex in public, or with underage persons, or without consent, or with force, are all illegal. Commercial sex, i.e., prostitution, is also illegal.
Most commonly, though, gay people are sometimes arrested for violating the “public indecency” law.107 The law targets activity which occurs in a public place, whether it is (a) sexual intercourse, or (b) a “lewd exposure of the body with intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of the person,” or (c) a lewd fondling or caress of the body of another person.
The million dollar question is: what is public and what is private? The law says a “public place” is “any place where the conduct may reasonably be expected to be viewed by others.” Id. Most people arrested for sexual activity are arrested for activity occurring out of doors. But sex is not illegal simply because it takes place outdoors, in parked cars, or on public lands. It all depends on the circumstances.108
The State has a legitimate law enforcement interest in protecting the general public from open displays of sex—whether the sex is between people of the same-sex or of a different-sex. But socializing and expressions of same-sex affection that does not involve the touching of genitals or buttocks or exposure of those is not illegal, regardless of where it occurs. No one should be arrested or hassled for foot-tapping, hand-holding, or cruising, or talking, or flirting, or other non-sexual touching.
As a practical matter, regardless of one’s rights, having sex outdoors is a risky business. For one, based on numerous reports to us, we believe that some police will overlook sexual activity of non-gay people occurring outdoors, but arrest gay people in the same types of venues. Another concern is that some police “hunt” for gay people having sex outdoors in park lands and rest areas—sometimes in uniform and sometimes as undercover decoys. Either way, a person can be charged with a violation of the sex laws.
Does Connecticut have a “sex offender registry” or “Megan’s” law?
Yes, every state now has such a law, although the terms differ from state to state.
What types of crimes are deemed to be “sex offenses”?
As you would expect with a law designed to ensnare dangerous predators, most of the crimes involve violence or children. If a person is convicted of violating the public indecency law with someone who was under the age of 18 at the time, then that is a registrable “offense against a victim who is a “minor” under Connecticut law.109
Specifically, persons who have been convicted or found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect of a sex offense listed in Connecticut General Statutes 54-250 through 54-261 are required to register.
What if I was not actually convicted? Or what if my conviction is very old?
The law only applies to people who were convicted of a sex offense either by a plea of guilty, a jury finding of guilt, or a plea of nolo contendere.110 Any disposition other than a conviction is not a “conviction” for purposes of this law.
The law reaches back in time so that any person convicted of a sex offense who has been released to the community on or after October 1, 1988 is subject to the law.111
How can I find what charges I have been convicted of?
You can contact the Department of Public Safety, Attn: Bureau of Identification, State Police, 1111 Country Club Road, Middletown, CT 06457 (860-685-8480). For a form (DPS-846-C) and directions for obtaining a copy of your records, visit: http://www.ct.gov/dps/cwp/view.asp?a=2154&q=294426. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a $25 fee made payable to the Commissioner of Public Safety. Also include a short letter explaining your request along with your name, date of birth, maiden name (if applicable) and any aliases.
What obligations are imposed on “sex offenders”?
Generally, sex offenders must register annually with the Department of Public Safety and provide their name, identifying factors, criminal history record, residence address, and treatment history for mental abnormality or personality disorder (if any). Depending on the type of offense, registration is required for a period of at least 10 years and may continue for life.112
There are limited exemptions from the obligation to register.113
A person convicted of violating the public indecency law with a minor must register for 10 years, except the person must register for life if he or she has two or more convictions for any such offense.114
What information is publicly available about sex offenders?
The information made public includes the person’s name, aliases, date of birth, State Police Bureau of Identification number, registration address, race, color of eyes and hair, sex, height, weight, identifying scars or marks or tattoos, date of registration, date last verified, and date and description of the crime.
In denying a challenge to the posting of information about non-dangerous sex offenders, the United States Supreme Court held in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003), that non-dangerous sex offenders do not have a right to a hearing as to their dangerousness before their information is posted, and that further, because the relevant laws have nothing to do with whether the offender is dangerous, such a hearing even after the posting would be irrelevant.
According to the Department of Public Safety Connecticut Sex Offender Registry website:
“The registry is based on the legislature’s decision to facilitate access to publicly available information about persons convicted of sexual offenses. The Department of Public Safety has not considered or assessed the specific risk of re-offense with regard to any individual prior to his or her inclusion within this registry, and has made no determination that any individual included in the Registry is currently dangerous. Individuals included within the registry are included solely by virtue of their conviction record and state law. The main purpose of providing this data on the Internet is to make the information more easily available and accessible, not to warn about any specific individual.”
What is the age of consent for sexual activity?
Generally, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16.116 But note that in some circumstances sexual acts with a person under age 18 is a criminal offense (e.g. contact where the actor is the person’s guardian or is otherwise responsible for the person’s welfare).
I am often told by police to “move along” from public areas. Is that legal?
Not necessarily. If the area is public and not posted as having particular hours, you generally have a right to be there as long as you are engaged in lawful activity. Public places belong to everyone, and are likely also places of public accommodation to which non-discrimination rules apply. Even if police officers want to deter crime, or suspect some kind of unlawful intent, they have no general right to request people to move from one place to another unless there is unlawful conduct.117
What are the general rules about interaction with police?
The presence of individuals who appear to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender—whether because such individuals are displaying symbols such as a rainbow flag or pink triangle or for any other reason should not trigger any special scrutiny by a police officer, other than a concern for the safety and well-being of those persons that the officer would have for any other park or rest area patron.
Police may of course approach a person, and make inquiries. But the fact that a person has been convicted of a past offense, or fails to respond, or responds in a way which does not satisfy the officer, cannot, without more, justify an arrest.
If an officer has a “reasonable and articulable suspicion” that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed, he or she may briefly detain an individual, or stop the person for purposes of investigation.118 An arrest can only occur upon “probable cause” that a crime has been committed.
What can I do if I believe I have been improperly treated by the police?
Complaints may be made to any individual police department for matters concerning its officers, and complaints to the Connecticut State Police may be made to Department of Public Safety, Attn: Legal Affairs Unit, 1111 Country Club Rd., Middletown, CT 06457. Their general number is (860) 685-8000.
In some cases, an individual may decide to pursue a lawsuit—because of injuries, improper detainment, or for some other reason. These matters are highly specialized, and GLAD can make attorney referrals.
101 See Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 29-7m
102 See Public Act 00-72 and Conn. Gen Stat. sec. 53a 181i-181l.
103 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-40a
104 See e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-58
105 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 52-571c
106 See H.R. 2647 at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c111:6:./temp/~c111mi4H1U:e1999565:
107 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-186
108 See, e.g. Connecticut v. Vega, 38 Conn. 313, 315 (1982)(exposure in front of apartment window seven feet above ground is public); Connecticut v. Cutro, 37 Conn. 534, 543 (1995)(masturbating in mall parking lot between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m. is public where defendant could be seen by person three cars away)
109 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 54-250 (2). For a full list of sex offenses, see Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 54-250 (2)(offenses against minors), (11) (sexually violent offenses)
110 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 54-250 (1)
111 See e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat. secs. 54-251 (a), 54-252 (a)
112 Conn. Gen. Stat. secs. 54-251 (a), 54-252 (a)
113 Conn. Gen. Stat. secs. 54-251 (b), 54-255
114 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 54-251
115 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 54-258(1)
116 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-71
117 Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116, 126 (1958)
118 State v. Anderson, 24 Conn. App. 438, 441, 589 A.2d 372, 373 (1991); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968)