Defendant’s Actions Evidenced Bigotry and Bias Toward Homosexuals; Intimidation Conviction Upheld

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for intimidation based on bigotry or bias, because the evidence established that he possessed the specific intent to intimidate or harass the victim based on actual or perceived homosexuality.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 12, 2005. The victim and defendant were homeless and lived in tents at a wooded campsite. That afternoon, they drank alcohol at a park with an unidentified man (man), who implied that he was homosexual. When the victim and defendant returned to the campsite, the defendant stated he did not want “fags” in their area, particularly the man. The two spent the evening drinking and got into an argument when the victim began undressing. The defendant claimed the victim must be a “fag” because “[o]nly a fag would take his clothes off in front of another man” and because he was spending time with the man.

A fight ensued, lasting at least ten minutes, when the defendant poured a bottle of vodka on the victim and tried to light him on fire. Unsuccessful in this attempt, the defendant then threatened to burn the victim with gasoline before leaving the campsite. The victim went to a local soup kitchen for help, and gave police a sworn statement about what occurred. The defendant was subsequently arrested and signed a waiver of rights before making both oral and written statements, in which he repeatedly used the word “fag.”

A jury found the defendant guilty of attempt to commit assault in the second degree, threatening in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the second degree, and disorderly conduct. The defendant appealed, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence that he committed intimidation. He claimed that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had “the requisite specific intent to intimidate or harass [the victim] because of [the victim’s] actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181k(a) prohibits acts in which a person specifically intends to intimidate or harass another person on the basis of actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. “Specific intent involves a ‘conscious objective to cause [a] result,’” and is often inferred from circumstantial evidence, such as a defendant’s verbal or physical conduct.

The Appellate Court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably conclude that the defendant possessed the required specific intent to violate § 53a-181k(a). Based on his oral and written statements, the jury could infer a bias toward homosexuals as well as his question as to whether the victim was homosexual as well. He stated he did not want homosexuals at the campsite and then accused the victim of being a “fag” before fighting him. In addition, the defendant attempted to set the victim on fire, and threatened a second attempt to do so. Therefore, “the jury could have inferred that the defendant acted with intent to harass or to intimidate [the victim] because of his actual or perceived sexual orientation.” Thus, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of assault, threatening, or intimidation, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.