Does Connecticut have a hate crimes law?

Yes. Connecticut has a number of hate crimes statutes that enhance criminal penalties for bias crimes and also allow an injured person to sue for monetary damages. Connecticut’s main hate crimes law sets out sentencing enhancements for hate crimes based on actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression depending on their severity (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-181i – 181l). In order to track hate crimes, the State Police maintains a reporting system so that incidents are centrally recorded (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 29-7m).

How does the law define what is a hate crime?

Connecticut’s sentencing enhancements for hate crimes apply when a perpetrator commits a crime with the specific intent to harass or intimidate an individual because of their actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-181j(a)). In other words, the perpetrator selects his victim out of bigotry.

If those prerequisites are shown, a sliding scale of sentencing enhancements applies:

  1. If the attacker “causes serious physical injury” to a person, the crime is a Class C Felony (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-181j(b)).
  2. If the attacker either: (1) causes any physical contact with their victim; (2) damages, destroys, or defaces their victim’s property or personal affects; or (3) credibly threatens to do either (1) or (2), the crime is a Class D Felony (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-181k).
  3. If the attacker is found to act without malice, but nonetheless either: (1) damages, destroys, or defaces their victim’s property or personal affects; (2) credibly threatens to damage, destroy, or deface their victim’s property or personal affects, or encourages another person to do so, the crime is a Class A Misdemeanor (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-181l).

Another provision of Connecticut law applies enhanced penalties to perpetrators who repeatedly commit hate crimes (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-40a).

There are also specific laws concerning desecration of religious sites and cross burning which are beyond the scope of this document (see e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-58).

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-LGBT language or slurs?
  • Was the victim in an area associated with LGBT people (e.g. outside a gay bar, at a Pride parade location, at a cruising area)?
  • Have there been similar crimes in the area?
  • Was the victim identified and targeted because of appearance or behavior (e.g., holding hands with a same-sex partner, wearing a Pride flag)
  • Did the attack occur regardless of economic motive (i.e., was the victim attacked but not robbed)?

Besides the police, who 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. They can be contacted at (860) 247-6090 or Toll-Free (800) 479-2949.

What other options do I have if I think I have been a victim of a hate crime?

If you have been injured or  if your property has been damaged, you may file a civil action against your attacker in addition to pursuing your rights in the criminal justice system (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec 52-571c). This action must be filed within three years of the date of the crime. If you prevail in court, the judge will award you triple damages, and may also decide to grant equitable relief (such as an injunction ordering the attacker to stay away from you) and attorney’s fees (Id).

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 (visit H.R. 2647 at 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.