The ‘gay panic’ defense – by which someone accused of a murder could claim the sexuality or gender identity of their victim was partly to blame for their actions – has been made illegal in New Jersey.
Governor Phil Murphy signed the legislation into law yesterday. In doing so, New Jersey becomes the ninth state to ban the defense. It follows California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Hawaii, Maine, Connecticut, and New York.
The so-called ‘gay panic’ defense is used by some people who have murdered members of the LGBTQ community. Those charged with such crimes will sometimes say their victim made a pass at them and they reacted violently in response.
In such cases, the charge of murder can be downgraded to manslaughter if a judge regards the act to have been committed “in the heat of passion” following provocation from a gay or transgender person.
I just signed a bill banning the gay and trans panic defenses for charges of criminal homicide.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 21, 2020
It can make the difference between being sentenced to 5-10 years for manslaughter or a life sentence for murder.
Campaigners have long argued that murder and assault are never appropriate reactions, whether someone has made a pass or not.
“Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations,’ said Murphy in a statement. “With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community.”
The legislation (Bill A1796) passed 39-0 in the New Jersey Senate and 76-0 in the state Assembly.
The legislation was welcomed by Lambda Legal, who tweeted, “Excellent news! Gay & trans “panic” defenses are baseless and harmful. Thank you, New Jersey!”