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Last updateWed, 19 Feb 2020 2pm

Politics

New Jersey Bans Controversional "Gay Panic" Defense in Courts, Becomes Ninth State in the Nation

NJ Gay PanicNew Jersey became the ninth state to ban the "gay panic defense" and "trans panic defense” for charges of criminal homicide from its courts, on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The statue, A1796, was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly in January 2018, passing the Judiciary Committee and full floor vote unanimously last December. After resolving Senate amendments, the bill passed both houses on Jan. 13, and was signed by Governor Phil Murphy last Tuesday.

Under previous law, a homicide which would otherwise be murder could be reduced to manslaughter if the jury finds that the homicide was committed "in the heat of passion resulting from a reasonable provocation." The new prohibition is intended to prevent a defendant from seeking the reduction of a murder charge to a charge of manslaughter committed in the heat of passion, allegedly provoked by the discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the homicide victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to the LGBT Bar, a legal nonprofit that has been on the forefront of getting the gay and Trans panic defenses banned nationwide, the controversial practice is defined as: “a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.”

Katherine Parkin, Ph.D., a Professor of History and the Jules Plangere, Jr. Endowed Chair in American Social History, said, “Historically, the position for a defense was to entice the jurors into imagining themselves in an uncomfortable or threatening scenario, whereby the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity as a LGBTQ+ person was purported, by their very existence, to be a provocation.”

One of the most known uses of the tactic was in the murder trials for the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard, a college student at the University of Wyoming who was killed and brutalized by two men.

The lawyers for Aaron McKinney, one of two men charged, argued that McKinney was driven to a temporary state of insanity after Shepard allegedly made an unwanted sexual advance on him. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences nonetheless.

“It's taken a tragically long time to outlaw this shameful defense and is an important part of changing a social and legal culture that protects the right of all New Jerseyans to live lives of freedom and respect,” Parkin explained. “New Jersey's leadership in outlawing these bogus victim-blaming defenses is vital.  Outlawing of a defense predicated on blaming a crime or murder on a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is a triumph for a justice system that aspires to be just.”

In a joint-statement to their constituents in Monmouth County, State Representatives Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling, and Senator Vin Gopal said, “Members of the LGBTQ community deserve protection from bigotry and hate - period. This bill might not solve every problem this community faces - but with this new law, we're one step closer to permanently closing this dark chapter in New Jersey legal history.”

Currently, only eight other states prohibit the legal strategy in their courts: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York, and Rhode Island.

IMAGE TAKEN from Patch.com

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