CA First State to Ban 'Gay Panic Defense' in Court

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Time to hang up the excuses, gay bashers.

California became the first U.S. state to ban the "gay panic defense" that defendants have successfully used in court to get out of murdering or assaulting the LGBT community.

Gay Star News reports that on Sept. 27, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that eliminates the excuse that someone was "panicked" into harming a gay or trans person in the heat of passion because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said on Sept. 29 that this defense was, "a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them. It has no place in California's legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation."

The Advocate notes last month, the California Assembly passed the bill, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, by a vote of 50-10.

"There is absolutely no justification for the use of 'panic defenses,'" Bonilla said in a statement last month. "Clearly this tactic has been utilized by defendants, unjustly targeting members of the LGBT community, based on damaging stereotypes. With AB 2501, we are moving forward to ensure equality in our courts and making it very clear that discrimination against the LGBT community is intolerable and unacceptable."

The law clearly outlines that a defendant's discomfort with or fear cannot be used as a legal defense to justify the assault, even in cases like the 2011 murder trail of teenager Brandon McInerney for the killing of classmate Larry King, who allegedly flirted with the defendant. In that case, a mistrial occurred, and McInerney made a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, and receiving 21 years in prison.

SF Weekly reports that gay panic is the notion that acts of violence are partly justifiable when a person's all-consuming hatred for LGBT people causes them to go berserk or act with "diminished capacity."

"It's a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury's own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter," writes SF Weekly. "Leaning on a 'heat of passion' line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can't be trusted not to curb their appetites."

From our media partner EDGE


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