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Know Your Rights: Criminal Justice in Vermont

Criminal Justice

Police Harassment (jump to section)

Criminal Sex (jump to section)

 

Criminal Justice | Police Harassment | Vermont

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 not engaged in unlawful activity. Public places belong to everyone and are often also places of public accommodation subject to Connecticut’s non-discrimination law. Even if a police officer wants to deter crime, or suspects 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.

What are the general rules about interaction with police?

The presence of individuals who appear to be LGBTQ+, whether because they 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.

Police may, of course, approach a person, and make inquiries, but even if a person has been convicted of a past offense, fails to respond, or responds in a way that does not satisfy the officer, that alone does not constitute grounds for the person to be arrested. A police officer may generally only stop a person briefly for purposes of investigation if they have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. In addition, in some circumstances, police officers without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity are permitted to intrude on a person’s privacy to carry out “community care-taking” functions, such as aiding people in need of assistance. These intrusions must be objectively reasonable and based on specific articulable facts.

An arrest can only occur upon “probable cause” that a crime has been committed. When an encounter with the police becomes too intrusive to qualify as an investigatory stop, as described above, the encounter may be deemed a full-scale arrest and must be justified by probable cause.

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. Many departments have their own Internal Affairs Divisions that receive and investigate civilian complaints against police officers.

For information on how to submit complaints to the Vermont State Police, visit Internal Affairs | Vermont State Police. You may submit a complaint online, by email, or to any Station Commander of the Vermont State Police.

In some cases, you may decide to pursue a lawsuit, either because of injuries, improper detainment, or for some other reason. These matters are highly specialized, and GLAD can make attorney referrals.

Resources

ACLU Know Your Rights: Stopped by Police: Know Your Rights | Stopped by Police | American Civil Liberties Union

Cases & Advocacy

To see Criminal Justice cases or advocacy in which GLAD has been directly involved in Vermont, go to Cases and Advocacy – GLAD and under “By Issue” click on “Criminal Justice” and under “By Location” click on “Vermont.”

News & Press Releases

To see news and press releases about Criminal Justice in Vermont, go to: News & Press Releases – GLAD and under “By Issue” click on “Criminal Justice” and under “By Location” click on “Vermont.”

 

 

Criminal Justice | Criminal Sex | Vermont

Does Vermont have a sodomy law?

No. Moreover, in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws, making clear that private, adult sexual conduct cannot be criminalized.

If it’s not illegal for LGBTQ+ people to have sex, why are people still getting arrested?

LGBTQ+ people are subject to the same laws as non-LBGTQ+ people. Sex in public, with underage persons, without consent, or with force are all illegal acts. Sex for pay – as either the customer or the provider – is also illegal.

Most people arrested for sexual activity are arrested for activity occurring in a public setting. The law regarding lewd and lascivious conduct prohibits “open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.” This law targets sexual activity that is obvious and not concealed and requires no more than one witness. This one witness can be anyone, including the person who complains about the conduct or the police.

This law has been applied to people having sexual encounters in public. Bear in mind that sexual activity should not be illegal simply because it takes place outdoors, in parked cars, or on public lands. A great deal depends on the overall circumstances (e.g., time of day, level of seclusion).

The State has a legitimate law enforcement interest in protecting the general public from open displays of nudity or sexual activity. Socializing and expressions of same-sex affection that do not involve the touching of genitals or buttocks or exposure of those are not illegal, however, regardless of where it occurs. No one should be arrested or hassled for hand-holding, cruising, talking, flirting, or other non-sexual touching.

As a practical matter, regardless of one’s rights, having sex in a public venue or outdoors is a risky business. For one, based on numerous reports to us, we believe that some police will overlook outdoor sexual activity between straight couples, but arrest LGBTQ+ people engaged in the same behavior. Another concern is that some police “hunt” for LGBTQ+ people having sex outdoors in park lands and rest areas to arrest them, sometimes in uniform and sometimes as undercover decoys. If a person is caught, they can be charged with a violation of the sex laws.

Does Vermont have a sex offender registry law?

Yes. Every state now has such a law, although the terms differ from state to state. The Vermont Criminal Information Center (VCIC) of the Department of Public Safety has maintained a sex offender registry since 1996. It participates in the National Sex Offender Registry Program managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

What types of crimes are deemed to be “sex offenses”?

As you would expect with a law designed to ensnare dangerous and violent predators, most of the crimes involve violence or sex with children. However, if someone is convicted of a single offense under the lewd and lascivious conduct statute, they are considered a sex offender subject to the registration requirements.

What if I was not actually convicted? Or what if my conviction is very old?

The sex offender registration laws only apply to sex offenders:

  • convicted in Vermont on or after July 1, 1996;
  • convicted in Vermont or another state before July 1, 1996, and either: (a) confined in Vermont and released from confinement on or after that date, or (b) being supervised in the community in Vermont on July 1, 1996; or
  • convicted or released from confinement in another state on or after July 1, 1986, and who established residence in Vermont on or after July 1, 1996. 117

How can I find out what charges I have been convicted of?

You can contact your local police, or call the VCIC, (802) 244-8727, to request a form to get a copy of your criminal records. You will need to fill out the form and return it to:

Vermont Crime Information Center Department of Public Safety
45 State Drive
Waterbury, VT 05671-1300 
Vermont Crime Information Center

What obligations are imposed on “sex offenders”?

Upon conviction and prior to sentencing, a sex offender must provide the court with their name, date of birth, current address, Social Security number, current employment, and name and address of a postsecondary educational institution if they are enrolled as a student.

When a sex offender is sentenced to probation or an alternative sentence under community supervision, or when a sex offender is about to be released from prison, the Department of Corrections forwards to the Department of Public Safety the above listed information, as updated, as well as the address upon release (and whether they will be living with a child under 18), the name, address and phone number of the probation and parole office in charge of monitoring the sex offender, and documentation of any treatment or counseling received.

Generally, a sex offender is required to report to the Department of Public Safety annually within ten days of the person’s date of birth. A person who has been deemed to be a sexually violent predator must report to the Department every 90 days. Other reporting obligations exist upon various changes in the person’s daily life and circumstances.

How long do these registration requirements last?

Except in the circumstances discussed below, this registration requirement continues for a sex offender until ten years have passed since the person was released from prison or discharged from parole, supervised release, or probation, whichever is later.

The registration requirement continues for the person’s life if they had at least one prior conviction for a sex offense in another jurisdiction, if they were convicted of sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault (unless the age of the victim was the basis for the conviction), or if they were determined to be a sexually violent predator. After ten years, however, most people required to register for life can petition the district court for a termination of notification such that information about them is no longer given to local law enforcement and the surrounding community.

Who may obtain information from the registry?

The information in the registry may be disclosed for any legal purpose, including for use by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for purposes of law enforcement activities; state and federal governmental agencies conducting confidential background checks; and any employer authorized by law to request records and information from the VCIC where the disclosure to such an employer is necessary to protect the public. A person required to register may also access the information contained in the registry for purposes of reviewing the accuracy of any record relating to them. The identity of a victim of an offense requiring registration shall not be released.

In addition, the public can gain access to information about people required to register as sex offenders from the Departments of Corrections of Public Safety or from local law enforcement agencies when the requestor can state a specific concern about their personal safety or that of their family.

What if my conviction is overturned?

A person whose conviction is reversed or dismissed is no longer subject to registration requirements and any information about them in the registry relating to that conviction shall be removed and destroyed. Further, anyone to whom that information was sent shall be notified and required to remove and destroy the information as well.

What is the age of consent for sexual activity?

Generally, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 unless either: (a) the parties are married and the sexual act is consensual, or (b) one party is less than 19 and the child is at least 15, and the sexual act is consensual. However, in some specific circumstances, such as where one party is the other’s guardian, the age of consent is 18.

Resources

Information About Vermont Sex Offender Registry: Vermont Crime Information Center- Contact

Cases & Advocacy

To see Criminal Justice cases or advocacy in which GLAD has been directly involved in Vermont, go to Cases and Advocacy – GLAD and under “By Issue” select “Criminal Justice” and under “By Location” select “Vermont.”

News & Press Releases

To see news and press releases about Criminal Justice in Vermont, go to News & Press Releases – GLAD and under “By Issue” select “Criminal Justice” and under “By Location” select “Vermont.”