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ACT NO. 83


Crimes; voyeurism; stalking; aggravated assault; DNA databank; special investigation units; sex offenders; criminal code study committee

This act addresses a number of issues relating to criminal law and may be referred to as "The Safe Communities Act." The act establishes a new voyeurism crime, commonly known as a "Peeping Tom" law. The new statute prohibits a person from viewing, photographing, or filming a person without his or her knowledge if that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The penalties range from a two-year misdemeanor for a first offense to a three-year felony for subsequent offense. Distributing an image obtained in violation of the law is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. A person who is convicted twice of such crimes is required to register as a sex offender.

The act amends the existing stalking laws by changing the standard in one of the elements of the crime. Prior to this act, the state was required to prove that the person who was allegedly being stalked was in fear for his or her physical safety or that the person suffered substantial emotional distress. This act changed the requirement to a "reasonable person" standard. The act also included, within the definition of "harassing," actions directed at a member of a person's family, which would cause a reasonable person to fear unlawful sexual conduct, unlawful restraint, bodily injury, or death. Previously, harassment of a family member could not be used to prove stalking.

The act makes two changes to current law regarding possession of a deadly weapon. First, engaging in the act of stalking while in the possession of a deadly weapon has been elevated to aggravated stalking and is now subject to stricter penalties. Second, a person who possesses a deadly weapon and threatens to use it against another person may be charged with aggravated assault, regardless of whether any physical contact resulted.

The scope of the DNA databank is expanded to require all persons who are convicted of a felony crime to submit a DNA sample for the state databank, used for the detection and investigation of crime. Previously, only persons who committed "violent crimes" were required to submit a DNA sample. The commissioner of public safety is required to report annually to the senate and house committees on judiciary regarding the operation of the databank and any backlogs in processing samples. The act notes that the appropriations bill includes $30,000.00 in funding for the databank.

The act authorizes special investigation units to obtain and disburse grant money in furtherance of their duties. A specialized investigative unit grants board is created to manage the grants. Specialized investigative units organized and operating under current law for the investigation of sex crimes, child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence, or crimes against those with physical or developmental disabilities may apply to the board for a grant or grants covering the costs of salaries and employee benefits to be expended during a given year for the performance of unit duties as well as unit operating costs for rent, utilities, equipment, training, and supplies.

The act makes a number of changes to the sex offender laws, including:

The house committee on judiciary committee is authorized to meet up to five times during the summer and fall to examine civil commitment of sex offenders and alternatives such as special prosecution units, presentence investigations, presentence risk assessment and psychosexual evaluations, enhanced criminal penalties, and successful sex offender treatment models.

The administration is required to present the house committee on judiciary with details regarding various civil commitment models no later than August 1, 2005.

Finally, the act adds two additional legislators to the Criminal Code Study Committee, bringing the total number to three senators and three representatives, including both chairs of the committees on judiciary, and expands the charge of the committee to include consideration of a sentencing commission.

Effective date: July 1, 2005, except that the section regarding the Criminal Code Study Committee goes into effect upon passage, June 28, 2005

Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont