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New Jersey becomes ninth state to officially ban ‘gay panic’ defence, remaining 41 states busy washing their hair

Nick Duffy January 22, 2020
New Jersey becomes ninth state to officially ban 'gay panic' defence

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The governor of New Jersey has signed a bill to officially ban the archaic ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defence in the state.

The new law, signed by Democratic governor Phil Murphy on Tuesday, prevents criminal defendants from claiming that they were provoked to violence after discovering the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity – an infamous legal defence used in several landmark cases to seek a lower sentence.

Governor Murphy said in a release: “We will always stand with our LGBTQ+ community and promote full equality for all our residents.

“Gay and trans panic defences are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations.

“With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbours in the LGBTQ+ community.”

California, Illinois, Rhode Island, New York, Nevada, Maine, Hawaii and Connecticut have also banned the ‘gay panic’ defence, while a bill proposed in Congress by Democratic representative Joe Kennedy III seeks to outlaw its use federally.

Gay panic defence ‘prejudiced against LGBT community’.

Assemblyman John McKeon, who sponsored the New Jersey bill, added: “The ‘gay panic or trans panic’ defence is not a freestanding defence to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic.

“It’s used to diminish the reason for a defendant’s violent reaction that asks a jury to find a victim’s sexual orientation or gender/expression as the cause.

“Whether the person was gay, transgender or heterosexual, sexual orientation should not have any bearing on determining a person’s guilt in a murder trial. It is prejudiced against the LGBTQ community.”

Former US President Barack Obama stands on stage with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey
Former US President Barack Obama stands on stage with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Christian Fuscarino of New Jersey LGBT+ group Garden State Equality said: “Make no mistake, the ‘panic’ defence is flat-out discriminatory legal malpractice, and no one should ever be excused from murder because their victim is gay or transgender.

“As hate crimes against LGBTQ New Jerseyans continue to rise and trans people are murdered across the nation, it’s more imperative than ever that we ensure our criminal justice system protects LGBTQ people equally — full stop.

“Thank you to governor Murphy for signing this ban into law and sending an unequivocal message that we fully value the lives and dignity of LGBTQ people in New Jersey.”

Trans people are also protected under New Jersey law.

Significantly, the bill also bans the deployment of the ‘trans panic’ defence, meaning that it is no longer permissible to cite discovery of a person’s gender identity as a reason for a “heat of the moment” crime.

Trans activist La’Nae Grant said: “Transgender women of colour are victims to murder, violence, and harassment every day of our lives simply for living authentically as ourselves.

“We deserve to live with dignity and safety in our communities. Knowing that the ‘panic’ defence is banned in New Jersey is another victory and moment of empowerment for black trans women like myself, but there’s still more work to do for our community.”

More: gay panic, legal defence, New Jersey, Phil Murphy, trans panic

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