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Violence & Harassment | Hate Crimes | Maine

Maine Hate Crimes Q&A

Does Maine have a hate crimes law?

Maine has a hate crimes law that permits consideration of the nature of the crime during the sentencing phase (17-A Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 1151 (8)(B)). If the defendant selected a person or his or her property for criminal activity because of, among other things, sexual orientation, then that fact can be taken into account. The law, however, does not include gender identity or expression among the factors to be taken into consideration upon sentencing.

Where can I call if I think I’ve been a victim of a hate crime?

In addition to the local police, you may contact the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit at (207) 626-8800, or online at http://www.maine.gov/ag/civil_rights/index.shtml.

What additional protections against hate crimes and harassment exist in Maine law?

  1. General Criminal Laws: Hate crimes are prosecuted under existing criminal laws, such as assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, murder, and so on. These generic laws do nothing to address the fact that an assault was hate-motivated, but they provide for criminal accountability, and the selection of a person (or his or her property) because of sexual orientation can then be considered in the sentencing phase.
  2. “Civil Rights Law”: On the civil side, Maine law provides for civil remedies when a person violates another person’s state or federal rights in certain circumstances (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4682). This provision, known as the “Maine Civil Rights Act” specifically states that a “person has the right to engage in lawful activities” without being subject to the infliction or threat of physical force or violence or the damage, destruction or trespass of property, motivated by reason of sexual orientation (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4684-A). Contact local law enforcement or the Attorney General’s office if you have been a victim under this law as the State is the primary enforcer of this statute. More specifically, the law allows a person to bring a private action against someone who uses or threatens physical force or violence, damages, destroys or trespasses on property, or threatens to damage, destroy or trespass on property in a manner that intentionally interferes or attempts to interfere with another person’s exercise or enjoyment of their rights under state or federal law (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4681). If those elements are met, then a person may bring an action for legal and equitable relief. Aside from the possibility of recovering money damages, equitable relief means that the person suing can obtain an order forbidding the attacker from coming near him or her, whether at home, at work, in school, or even from telephoning him or her. Actions must be brought within 6 years, although moving promptly is always an advantage (14 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 752). In addition to whatever relief a restraining order may provide, it is also important that violation of a restraining order is a criminal offense that can be prosecuted. You should report any violations of a restraining order to local police, and keep careful records of any and all violations. The Attorney General’s Office also has the power to bring civil rights actions on behalf of people who are harassed or threatened (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4681). The contact information is listed above.
  3. Harassment Law: Maine law permits people to petition the District or Superior Court for an order preventing harassment (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4652). “Harassment” is defined as “any repeated act of intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force directed against any person, family, or their property or advocate with the intention of causing fear or intimidation or to deter free exercise or enjoyment of any rights or privileges secured by” the Constitution or laws of Maine or the United States. Under this law, a person may seek emergency orders, and later seek temporary orders, and ultimately seek final orders of protection. In addition, with final orders, a successful plaintiff may be awarded damages for direct losses caused by the harassment (e.g., lost earnings, property repair or replacement), reasonable moving expenses and court costs and attorney’s fees (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4655). Violation of a court restraining order is a criminal offense (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4659).

In what ways might the federal hate crimes law help to investigate and prosecute hate crimes?

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see H.R. 2647 at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/senate-bill/909/text) 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.