Bias Motivated Crimes
As part of the City of Boulder’s efforts to ensure that Boulder is a welcoming and inclusive community, the city updated the Boulder Revised Code (BRC) language pertaining to bias motivated crime sentence enhancements. The amendments include the expansion of offenses that are subject to an enhanced sentence, adding offenses related to religious expression into the category of bias motivated crimes, adding clarifying language to authorize an enhanced sentence even if the offender had mixed motives when the crime was committed, and cross-referencing the definitions of gender, gender identity and gender expression with Boulder’s Human Rights Ordinance.
Since 1968, federal law makes it a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin. The law also protects a person that is participating in a federally protected activity, such as public education, employment, jury service, travel, or the enjoyment of public accommodations, or helping another person to do so.
In general, a bias motivated crime is a criminal offense such as assault or vandalism that is at least partially motivated by bias against a protected class.
According to the Boulder Revised Code, “Bias motivated crime shall mean the commission of any of the underlying offenses specified below (see next section) if the offense is committed by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, religious expression, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression of another individual or group of individuals, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors.”
As noted above, a bias motivated crime consists of a criminal act with an element of bias. In the City of Boulder there are specific underlying crimes that are eligible for bias related sentence enhancement. Municipal offenses that fall into this category include:
- Assault in the Third Degree
- Physical Harassment
- Threatening Bodily Injury
- Use of Fighting Words
- Brandishing a Weapon
- Damaging Property of Another
- Graffiti Prohibited
- Posting Signs on Property of Another Prohibited
- Aiming Weapon at Another
- Flourishing Deadly Weapon in Alarming Manner
Note that more serious offenses, such as those involving the taking of a life, are not going to be covered by Boulder’s municipal laws. These will be covered by state law and will be prosecuted by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office as opposed to the City of Boulder’s City Attorney’s Office.
Boulder’s sentence enhancements, are defined by sentence maximums, as opposed to sentence minimums. The possible sentence enhancements under Boulder law are:
- A fine of not more than $2,000 per violation
- A sentencing maximum of 364 days in jail
- A combination of both the maximum fine and maximum jail time
In the fall of 2019, the City of Boulder updated the protections provided by its bias motivated crimes ordinance. Most notably, these changes included a provision that made it easier to pursue an offense as a bias motivated crime in instances where there is a question of mixed motive as well as specifically calling out protections related to religious expression.
Boulder’s municipal bias motivated crimes ordinance now allows for the prosecution of a crime “regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors.”
In some places, the language of the law makes it difficult for an incident to be prosecuted as a bias motivated crime where there is a mixed motive. An example of this might occur when a parking lot fender bender that was not initially motivated by race escalates into a bias motivated incident where a party assaults and directs racial epithets against an another. The update to Boulder’s municipal laws specifically allows for prosecution of a bias-motivated incident in which there may have been an initial, non-bias related motive.
Under municipal law, religion has always been considered a protected class when it comes to enforcement of the bias motivated crimes ordinance. The 2019 municipal ordinance update added language specifying that “religious expression” is also covered by bias motivated crime protections. Boulder defines religious expression as follows:
“Religious expression means any external manifestation of a person's religious beliefs, including but not limited to attending worship services, praying, wearing religious garb, symbols, head coverings of all kinds, hair including shaving or hair length observances, displaying religious objects, adhering to certain dietary rules or refraining from certain activities.”
Religious expression language was added to ensure protection of individuals who may be practicing their faith outside of a physical house of worship. For example, an individual may be engaged in public act of prayer in a space such as a city park, and the intent of the update was to make sure such a person would benefit from the protections of city statutes. Additionally, physical indicators of religious expression, as noted in the above definition, such as hair style, head coverings (such as turbans, yarmulkes, and head scarves), and clothing are also specifically noted in the revised Boulder statute.
By specifically identifying these indicators, Boulder’s municipal laws make it easier to pursue a bias motivated crime prosecution based on religious expression..
In the aftermath of a bias-motivated crime, the first priority is your personal safety. If you have been physically injured, you should immediately seek out medical help, either by going to a medical facility or dialing 911. Dialing 911 will also connect you with police to report a bias motivated crime.
If you are not injured, you should also contact the police as soon as possible to file a report and create a written record of the bias motivated crime incident. When contacting the police, keep in mind the following:
- Note the name and badge number of the responding officer.
- Request that the officer file an incident report and ask for a case number.
- If you believe that this is a bias related incident, make sure that the officer notes this (and/or checks off the appropriate box on the incident report.
- Ask for a copy of the preliminary report and follow up on receiving copies of any subsequent police reports.
A written record should contain as many specific details as possible, such as the time and place where the incident occurred. Ideally, this document should provide, where possible, physical descriptions of the perpetrator, including height, weight, clothing, and other distinguishing characteristics that may aid in identification. It should also note the use of any epithets or other language that would place the incident into the category of a bias-motivated crime.
Bias-motivated crimes falling under Boulder municipal statutes are prosecuted by the City of Boulder’s City Attorney’s Office. This office can be reached at (303) 441-3025.
Additionally, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office has set up a hotline for community members to report hate or bias motivated crimes. Note that this hotline is for non-emergencies only and that one should call 911 for crimes in progress. The number for the District Attorney’s Bias & Hate Hotline is (303) 441-1595. The Boulder County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes bias-motivated crimes under state law, and the relevant language from the Colorado Revised Statutes is found in the next section.
After contacting the police and/or the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, you may also wish to notify a resource such as the Mountain States chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). This nonprofit organization serves all victims by providing all-inclusive advocacy and connections to other supportive resources. The Mountain States ADL is online at https://mountainstates.adl.org/ or can be reached via phone at (303) 830-7177.
Hate crimes may also be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI can be reached at their Denver office at (303) 629-7171 and non-emergency reporting can be done online at https://tips.fbi.gov/
Experiencing a bias motivated crime can be traumatic, and it’s important that you seek out supportive resources if necessary. These can include friends, family, advocates and mental health professionals. As noted above, organizations with a local presence such as the ADL may also be helpful in finding and providing supportive resources.
Excerpts from Local and State Law
5-1-1. – Definitions
“Bias motivated crime shall mean the commission of any of the underlying offenses specified below if the offense is committed by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, religious expression, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression of another individual or group of individuals, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors. The underlying offenses are Sections 5-3-1, "Assault in the Third Degree," 5-3-2, "Brawling," 5-3-3, "Physical Harassment," 5-3-4, "Threatening Bodily Injury," 5-3-6, "Use of Fighting Words," 5-3-9, "Brandishing a Weapon," 5-4-1, "Damaging Property of Another," 5-4-14, "Graffiti Prohibited," 5-4-15, "Posting Signs on Property of Another Prohibited," 5-8-6, "Aiming Weapon at Another," or 5-8-7, "Flourishing Deadly Weapon in Alarming Manner," B.R.C. 1981. No "bias motivated crime" finding shall occur unless the allegation of bias motivation has been specifically charged and sustained by an in-court admission of a defendant, or by a specific finding established beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury in a contested trial.”
5-2-4. - General Penalties.
“(c)The penalty for violation of any rule or regulations promulgated under authority delegated by the charter, this code, or any ordinance of the city is a fine of not more than $1,000 per violation, except as provided in Paragraph (a)(4) of this section and in Section 5-5-20, "Unlawful Conduct on Public Property," B.R.C. 1981.(d)The maximum penalty for violation of Sections 5-3-1, "Assault in the Third Degree," 5-3-2, "Brawling," 5-3-3, "Physical Harassment," 5-3-4, "Threatening Bodily Injury," 5-3-6, "Use of Fighting Words," 5-3-9, "Brandishing a Weapon," 5-4-1, "Damaging Property of Another," 5-4-14, "Graffiti Prohibited," 5-4-15, "Posting Signs on Property of Another Prohibited," 5-8-6, "Aiming Weapon at Another," and 5-8-7, "Flourishing Deadly Weapon in Alarming Manner," B.R.C. 1981, when the offense is found to be a bias motivated crime, shall be a fine of not more than $2,000 per violation, or incarceration for not more than three hundred sixty-four days in jail, or both such fine and incarceration. The court shall not be required to make the findings required by Paragraph (a)(3) of this section in order to impose a sentence including incarceration. This ordinance shall not be applied in a manner that suppresses abstract thought or protected speech.”
12-1-1. - Definitions.
“ Religious expression means any external manifestation of a person's religious beliefs, including but not limited to attending worship services, praying, wearing religious garb, symbols, head coverings of all kinds, hair including shaving or hair length observances, displaying religious objects, adhering to certain dietary rules or refraining from certain activities.”
18-9-121. Bias-motivated crimes
(1) The general assembly hereby finds and declares that it is the right of every person, regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, harassment, and physical harm caused by the activities of individuals and groups. The general assembly further finds that the advocacy of unlawful acts against persons or groups because of a person's or group's race, color, ancestry, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation for the purpose of inciting and provoking bodily injury or damage to property poses a threat to public order and safety and should be subject to criminal sanctions.
(2) A person commits a bias-motivated crime if, with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation, he or she:
(a) Knowingly causes bodily injury to another person; or
(b) By words or conduct, knowingly places another person in fear of imminent lawless action directed at that person or that person's property and such words or conduct are likely to produce bodily injury to that person or damage to that person's property; or
(c) Knowingly causes damage to or destruction of the property of another person.
The City of Boulder appreciates the guidance and contributions of the Human Rights Commission Members who were seated at the time of the adoption of the Bias Motivated Crimes Ordinance:
Lindsey Loberg, Deputy Chair
Nikhil Mankekar, Chair (key contributor to the Bias Motivated Crimes Ordinance)