Does Vermont have a hate crimes law?

Yes. Vermont law imposes increased penalties for crimes committed because of hatred or animus toward the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, service in the U.S. armed forces, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity (13 V.S.A. § 1455).

In addition to being subject to criminal prosecution, the Attorney General’s office may seek civil penalties from a perpetrator of up to $5000 (payable to the state) plus costs and attorney’s fees for every violation of the criminal hate crimes statute and for violations of any injunctions imposed (see discussion below) (13 V.S.A. § 1466).

How does the law define what is a hate crime?

The hate crimes law applies to “[a] person who commits, causes to be committed or attempts to commit any crime and whose conduct is maliciously motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, service in the U.S. armed forces, disability…, sexual orientation or gender identity” (13 V.S.A. § 1455).

According to the Attorney General’s office, assaults, unlawful mischief (damage or destruction of property), telephone harassment and disorderly conduct (by public yelling of threats and abuse) are the most common hate crimes in Vermont (

Besides the police, who can I call if I think I’ve been a victim of a hate crime?

In addition to contacting the local police, you may contact the Civil Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office toll-free (in Vermont) at (888) 745-9195 or at (802) 828-3657 or

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

Victims of hate crimes can also file a civil claim in the Superior Court of the county where they live or where the crime occurred (13 V.S.A. § 1457). These claims can seek:

  • an order to stop the hate-motivated behavior and restrict the perpetrator’s ability to contact you in any way;
  • money damages to compensate for the injury caused by the crime;
  • money damages to punish the perpetrator;
  • costs and attorney’s fees; and
  • any other relief the court thinks is appropriate.

Through this process, you have the right to obtain very similar protections to those available to domestic violence victims.  (See discussion above).  If you have been the victim of a hate crime or of a stalker, you can go to Superior Court and quickly obtain a preliminary order providing protection from the perpetrator of the hate crimes.  This order may:

  • prohibit the perpetrator from committing any crime against you or other people;
  • prohibit the perpetrator from contacting you; and
  • prohibit the perpetrator from coming near you, your home, or other places where you are likely to be (i.e. workplace, homes of family members, etc.).

This preliminary order will remain in effect for a period of time set by the court up to 120 days, or until there is a final decision in the case (13 V.S.A. § 1461).

A final order can be issued for up to two years, but the court can extend the order for any amount of time if it finds it is necessary to protect the victim.  Violating these kinds of orders is a crime, subject to immediate arrest, imprisonment and fines (13 V.S.A. § 1461(c), 1465(a-b)).

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 18 U.S.C. § 249) 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.