Criminal defendants in California would no longer be able to use “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense strategies if a new bill by Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord) becomes law.
Bonilla introduced Assembly Bill 2501 Wednesday (February 26) to ban the panic tactic, which is used by murder defendants who want to mitigate their crimes by claiming their acts “were triggered by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” a news release from Equality California, which is sponsoring the bill, said.
“This is 2014!” Bonilla said in the EQCA release. “We as a society are moving rapidly away from the hate, bias and prejudice” against LGBTs.
“It is shocking to know that criminal defendants are encouraged by their counsel to employ this so-called ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in order to receive a possible lesser sentence for murdering an individual just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Bonilla said.
EQCA Executive Director John O’Connor said, “It is an outrage to allow the use of panic defenses and in doing so blame the victims of horrific acts of violence. Homophobia and transphobia have no place in California’s justice system.”
AB 2501 would change the existing definition of “voluntary manslaughter” to ban defendants from “contending that they were provoked to murder by discovering the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to EQCA.
Over the past 10 years, there have been several high-profile cases where panic defenses were used, including the murders of LGBT teens Gwen Araujo and Larry King in California.
Former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) introduced legislation similar to AB 2501 several years ago, but it got watered down, ultimately only requiring courts to instruct juries that their verdicts shouldn’t be influenced by bias against a victim.
The bill is set for a policy committee hearing this spring.